‘True Mothers’ looks at adoption in Japan


By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Japan’s Oscar® entry for Best International Film is available virtually through Music Box Theatres. A young adoptive family’s life is shaken by the surprising arrival of the birth mother. After a long and unsuccessful struggle to get pregnant, Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) and her husband Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) decide to adopt a child. Over the next six years, the middle-class couple and their young son, Asato, settle into a comfortable, albeit routine, life.

The family’s orderly existence is shattered by the arrival of Hikari (Aju Makita), a young woman claiming to be Asato’s biological mother, demanding his return. As tensions mount, Satoko grows more and more emboldened to defend her family and decides to confront Hikari directly in “True Mothers,” a universally acclaimed official selection at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival, nominated for a Golden Seashell and Gold Hugo at the San Sebastian and Chicago International Film Festivals, respectively. Weaving together multiple timelines and genres with a contemplative pacing and keen sense of place, hallmarks of Naomi Kawase’s work, “True Mothers” is a deeply touching celebration of women who assume duties of love, support and compassion” (Awards Watch).

“True Mothers” represents the first time that talented Caméra d’Or-winning director Naomi Kawase has represented her country on the Oscar stage (and only the third time from 67 submissions that Japan has been represented by a woman, after Yong-hi Yang for “Our Homeland” in 2013 and Mipo O for “The Light Only Shines There” in 2015).

Most people would be affected by the events unfolding in this film, but mothers particularly everywhere would be concerned about issues brought up in the film. The young girl, Hikari, who became pregnant at 14 and was forced to move away to await her birth at a home that was basically for unwed mothers didn’t agree with her parents. But she was overruled, although she believed that she and her young boyfriend would be together forever. It was NOT to be.

It reminded me of when years ago if young girls living in the northern states became pregnant, they would often be sent Down South to live with relatives until after their babies were born. In many cases, they would return to Chicago, Detroit and other cities—sometimes leaving their newborns Down South to be raised by relatives.

Hikari rebels against her family when she returns home. She is reluctant to return to school and ends up visiting the birthing home where she waited the months out until her delivery at the hospital. She had grown closer to the lady who ran the home—more so with her own mother. She came to work at the local newspaper to support herself.

This film details the notion of plenary adoptions, where the adoptive family can’t choose the sex of the child that they want to adopt—they submit male and female names and agree to take whatever baby comes up next on the adoption list.

The couple who adopts Akato has had a rough go at it trying to conceive a child of their own. They finally relent and make the emotional decision to adopt. All is going well for about two years, and then a young woman gets in touch with them and tries to blackmail them into giving her money. I enjoyed this movie; it laid out the events very well. But I’m still a bit confused about the end concerning whether it was truly Hikari who tries to extort money or whether it’s a young woman with whom she has become acquainted.

“True Mothers” does deserve to be in the running for an Oscar, and it is available to screen virtually via Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. Take a look at the trailer: https://musicboxtheatre.com/films/true-mothers.





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