What does it mean to be a mother? Japan’s submission for Best International Feature Film, True Mothers, creates a very human picture of motherhood, but it also is multifaceted. It is the story of two mothers of a child. They have two very different stories, but can they find a way to bring them together?
Satoko has always wanted to be a mother, but her husband Kiyokazu is infertile. After a long process of fertility treatments, they decide to adopt a child whom they name Asato. Satoko quits her job to be a full-time stay at home mother. Then one day she gets a phone call. The caller claims to the son’s mother and wants him back—or money to keep the secret.
The film then transitions to the story of Hikari, a fourteen year old junior high student. We watch as she begins dating a boy, and in time becomes pregnant. Her family sends her to an island near Hiroshima where a woman runs Baby Baton, a place for women who are willing to give up their babies for adoption. Hikari experiences new people and ideas. After the birth, when she returns home, she is angry and resentful for being forced to give up her child.
Six years later, the two mothers meet, but not without conflict. Satoko and her husband met Hikari briefly when they adopted the child, but she looks very different now. Is it really the same person? Her attempts at blackmail are meaningless because everyone already knows their son is adopted. So what can Hikari really want?
Is it fair to assume that only one of these women is really Asato’s mother? The laws of adoption clearly recognize Satoko as the boy’s mother. For the last six years she has been the one caring for him and dealing with problems at school. But what of Hikari’s bond with the child she brought into the world? Is that irrelevant? Each has an identity of motherhood for the child.
The way the story is told giving us extended versions, first of Satoko’s story, then of Hikari’s, there is a dialectic—thesis/antithesis—structure. Which leads us to expect that there will be some form of a synthesis to create a new understanding.
The story eventually comes down to the way the two women understand motherhood and act out what it means to be mothering. Satoko realizes that she has a bond with Hikari that cannot be ignored—for her well-being, Asato’s well-being, or Hikari’s well-being. It will only be through some sort of nurturing of relationship that all will find fulfillment.
True Mothers is available via virtual cinema through local theaters.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.