- Awards Season
- Big Stories
- Pop Culture
- Video Games
Something’s Wrong With Mom: 6 of the Most Terrifying Mother’s Day Movies to Watch
A few years ago, on Mother’s Day, my little sister and mother went to a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror masterpiece Psycho at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I heard they did this, I loved it — I loved imagining the two of them celebrating their mother/daughter dynamic by watching one of the all-time great mom-based horror movies of all time.
I can’t resist telling the rest of the story. The next year, a local public radio station was doing a retrospective on Psycho , and my sister heard it on the radio and called in to talk about how fun it was to see the movie on Mother’s Day. As it turns out, my mother was already on hold with the radio station , having called in for the same reason (you can listen starting at the 11 minute-mark on that link if you’re curious).
Now, it’s possible this wonderful little coincidence says more about my weird family than it does about Mother’s Day more broadly, but I do think movies have a unique way of taking our ideas and making them gigantic and strange. It just might be the case that diving into some of the wildest, spookiest movie moms ever is one of the best ways to celebrate a holiday about mothers. What I’m saying is: I think maybe my sister and my mom were onto something. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most terrifying movies you can watch on Mother’s Day.
We’ll start with the one that kicked this whole idea off. Psycho was a phenomenon when it came out in 1960, and somehow it still holds up all these years later. The movie centers around a man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who is the proprietor of Bates Motel. He lives behind the motel in a big, spooky-looking house, ostensibly with his mother, but as we will learn, things in the Bates house are not really what they seem.
Perkins’ performance as Norman — a seemingly kind man overwhelmed by the force of his overbearing mother — is totally harrowing, but the movie is such a fun horror experience all the way through. One of the best things about Psycho is the way the movie changes once you’ve already seen it. Part of what makes it a great movie to rewatch, again and again, is the way the revelation of the ending alters the feeling of everything that came before. When you’ve already seen it, you get to be in on the secret.
Maybe it’s strange to say this about a movie in which, famously, a bucket of pig’s blood gets dumped on the main character, but Piper Laurie’s performance as Carrie’s mom, Margaret White, is the most terrifying thing in this film. Carrie is the story of a girl in high school (Sissy Spacek) who’s dealing with the dueling horrors of being bullied at school and being basically imprisoned and abused at home by her religious-fanatic mother.
Part of what I love about this movie is all the mother-figures gone wrong. Carrie’s gym teacher wants to help her, but only ends up making things worse. One of her bullies decides to start trying to look out for her, but all of those plans lead to disaster. But mostly, it’s Carrie’s actual mother who forces Carrie to bottle everything up. When that bottle explodes, it’s one of the great cathartic moments in movie history.
Another classic of the mother/daughter thriller genre, Strait-Jacket is a story of murder and trauma across generations. Joan Crawford — whose own story of motherhood was horrifyingly portrayed in 1981’s Mommie Dearest — plays Lucy, a woman who murders her cheating husband and his lover with an ax. After being declared criminally insane, she spends 20 years institutionalized and then gets out and goes to live on a farm with her brother, sister-in-law and daughter, Carol (Diane Baker).
Based on a book by Robert Bloch, who also wrote Psycho , you can tell this movie is going to be pretty over the top because the poster for it says “ Strait-Jacket vividly depicts ax murders!” It absolutely lives up to that promise. Most famous for Crawford’s over-the-top portrayal of a woman losing her mind, it’s also another one of those classic thrillers in which everything is not as it seems.
This James Cameron-directed sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien takes the series in a more action-thriller sort of direction, but the plot of this film is all about feelings of motherhood. Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley returns — reluctantly and alongside a group of marines — to investigate a colony where she believes alien eggs still exist. Lots of exciting stuff happens, but the most important is that she finds and rescues a young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn).
The Ripley/Newt relationship is really sweet in the face of so much horror and terror and gore. Somehow, Aliens takes its exploration of the themes of motherhood even further, though. The group ultimately has to deal with the alien queen — a truly terrifying monster trying to protect her offspring, just as Ripley is trying to protect Newt. It’s these feelings of familial bonds and deep, preternatural kinds of caring for each other that gives Aliens the feel of a story that has greater stakes than Alien , even if both are undeniably great movies.
This 2009 film from Bong Joon-ho — the astouningly great director of films like Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2006), and, most famously, Parasite (2019) — is a subtle homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho in many ways. Mother stars South Korean actress Kim Hye-ja as the unnamed main character, a widow who is extremely overprotective of her son, Do-joon, played by the actor Won Bin. After Do-joon is accused of murdering a local girl, his mother sets about trying to prove his innocence.
Mother is about problems of perception — what we’re willing to believe versus what’s actually true. The movie goes at that complicated theme with Bong Joon-ho’s characteristically unique combination of comedy, horror, drama and incredible visual style. He’s one of the best directors working at the moment, and this movie explores motherhood more interestingly — and troublingly — than just about any other movie I can think of.
Serial Mom (1994)
We’ll wrap up with John Waters ’ 1994 dark comedy in which Kathleen Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, a suburban housewife who’s secretly a serial killer, murdering people who fall short of her strict moral standards. Turner plays Beverly with a matter-of-fact kind of glee, in many ways veering away from the kind of campiness Waters’ films are famous for indulging. The story itself is pure satire though — at her trial, Beverly discredits every witness, and is acquitted on all charges.
This movie also has a lot of fun with references, too. John Waters himself steps in, uncredited, to provide the voice of real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, and, at one point, the video store where Beverly’s son Chip (Matthew Lillard) works plays Strait-Jacket on a TV. I’ll leave it to you to decide what you think John Waters is saying about motherhood, America and everything else in Serial Mom , but I promise you’ll have a lot of terrifying fun along the way.
MORE FROM ASK.COM
Log in or sign up for Rotten Tomatoes
Trouble logging in?
Email not verified
Let's keep in touch.
Sign up for the Rotten Tomatoes newsletter to get weekly updates on:
- Upcoming Movies and TV shows
- Trivia & Rotter Tomatoes Podcast
- Media News + More
OK, got it!
Movies / TV
No results found.
- What's the Tomatometer®?
Movies in theaters
- Opening this week
- Coming soon to theaters
- Certified fresh movies
Movies at home
- Netflix streaming
- Amazon prime
- Most popular streaming movies
- What to Watch New
Certified fresh picks
- The Zone of Interest Link to The Zone of Interest
- Eileen Link to Eileen
- Quiz Lady Link to Quiz Lady
New TV Tonight
- Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: Season 1
- A Murder at the End of the World: Season 1
- Ghosts: Season 1
- NCIS: Sydney: Season 1
- Beacon 23: Season 1
- The Crown: Season 6
- Scott Pilgrim Takes Off: Season 1
- Kennedy: Season 1
Most Popular TV on RT
- Sex Education: Season 4
- All the Light We Cannot See: Season 1
- Blue Eye Samurai: Season 1
- The Curse: Season 1
- Loki: Season 2
- Black Cake: Season 1
- Bodies: Season 1
- The Lazarus Project: Season 2
- Top TV Shows
- Certified Fresh TV
- Most popular TV
Certified fresh pick
- Monarch: Legacy of Monsters Link to Monarch: Legacy of Monsters
- All-Time Lists
- Binge Guide
- Comics on TV
- Five Favorite Films
- Video Interviews
- Weekend Box Office
- Weekly Ketchup
- What to Watch
The 100 Best Movies Over 3 Hours Long, Ranked
The Hunger Games In Order: How to Watch the Movies Chronologically
What to Watch: In Theaters and On Streaming
RT25: Celebrating 25 Years of Rotten Tomatoes
New Tomatometer Scores: Latest Ratings on Movies and Shows
TV Premiere Dates 2023
- Trending on RT
- Shop Rotten Tomatoes
- The Hunger Games
- The Marvels
"Mother" is a very hard film through its cruel realism, which could have been a great one with a few minor changes in the writing and the finale.
Full Review | Dec 20, 2020
Mother is a fascinating drama, gripping us until its brutal and ironic conclusion.
Full Review | Nov 6, 2020
In the title role...Masami Nagasawa gives us one of the great screen monsters of recent memory...a Japanese "Mommy Dearest."
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Nov 4, 2020
Mother is the work of a visionary director, highlighting a broken, abusive family life.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Nov 3, 2020
Whatever you may think of his title character, his film has the ring of emotional truth.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Jul 6, 2020
- Cast & crew
- User reviews
Akiko (Masami Nagasawa) is a single mother and her son is Shuhei (Sho Gunji). Akiko casually has sex with other men, including Ryo (Sadao Abe). Akiko is the only person whom Shuhei can rely ... Read all Akiko (Masami Nagasawa) is a single mother and her son is Shuhei (Sho Gunji). Akiko casually has sex with other men, including Ryo (Sadao Abe). Akiko is the only person whom Shuhei can rely on. One day, Shuhei makes a shocking decision. Akiko (Masami Nagasawa) is a single mother and her son is Shuhei (Sho Gunji). Akiko casually has sex with other men, including Ryo (Sadao Abe). Akiko is the only person whom Shuhei can rely on. One day, Shuhei makes a shocking decision.
- Tatsushi Ômori
- Takehiko Minato
- Masami Nagasawa
- 32 User reviews
- 13 Critic reviews
- 6 wins & 2 nominations
- Akiko Misumi
- Shuhei (child)
- Aya Takahashi
- Masako Misumi
- Keiichi Akagawa
- Kaede Misumi
- All cast & crew
- Production, box office & more at IMDbPro
More like this
Did you know
- Connections Featured in Horrible Reviews: Best Movies I've Seen In 2021 (2022)
- Soundtracks Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 Music by Franz Liszt Game console BGM
User reviews 32
- Dec 31, 2020
- How long is Mother? Powered by Alexa
- July 3, 2020 (Japan)
- Official site (Japan)
- Official YouTube
- Mẫu Tử Lầm Lỡ
- See more company credits at IMDbPro
- Runtime 2 hours 6 minutes
Contribute to this page.
- See more gaps
- Learn more about contributing
More to explore
Mother (2020) review – Japanese Netflix film is a tragic story of cruel parenting
This review of Netflix film Mother (2020, Japanese release) contains no spoilers. The drama was released on November 3, 2020.
Mother, not to be mistaken with similar titles , is a difficult movie to stomach. It follows a young mother who tries to manipulate the world into giving her money — she does not want to work, and she entertains herself with equally damaging men. For most of the film, your focus is on the child — a son that seems destined for a childhood of abuse and pain. There’s a level of cruelty displayed from this Netflix film, one that makes the audience question the motives of parents who do not want to do right by their children.
Mother does not sway past the cracks; the parent is unveiled as someone who is broken and serves no logical approach to parenting; everything is money, manipulation and scamming. The child plays as the audience’s perspective — nothing makes sense, everything is wild, and it’s a constant barrage of threat. The term “We are all God’s children” is hard to imagine when a film like this shows what some children have to go through due to cruel and abusive parenting.
The child is tentative and quiet. Netflix’s Mother frames it in a way where the young boy is trapped but also emotionally crippled by biology. We don’t choose our parents, and that love is somehow default. The director pours his heart into each scene to demonstrate how the young boy feels while his mother acts erratically and moves from one project to the next.
And it’s quite common from children in abusive homes to keep moving — it’s the only way that the parent can handle their life; it has to be chaotic and nonsensical to fulfil that need, that selfishness that overbears them. Mother displays that cruelty to a formidable level and maintains the story in its 2-hour outing.
A film like this needs great performance and great they are. The cast manages to embrace the life of a low-income, cyclical hell, showing authenticity and naturalness in their performances. Everything feels “day to day”. There’s not an answer in sight, just general glumness.
Mother is the work of a visionary director, highlighting a broken, abusive family life.
For more recaps, reviews, and original features covering the world of entertainment, why not follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page ?
Article by Daniel Hart
Daniel is the co-founder of Ready Steady Cut and has served as Editor-in-Chief since 2017. Since then, Dan has been at the top of his game by ensuring that we only produce and upload content of exceptional quality and that we’re up to date with the latest additions to the streaming and entertainment world. An expert film writer with years of experience, Dan knows what the current, latest, and upcoming film and TV show crazes are and makes sure his…
Annabelle (2014) Review
Love in Taipei Ending Explained - who kisses Ever at the end of the film?
Leave a reply.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Sign up to the newsletter
This website cannot be displayed as your browser is extremely out of date.
Please update your browser to one of the following: Chrome , Firefox , Edge
- Amazon Prime Video
More From Decider
Jenna Bush Hager Cringes After Seeing Taylor Swift And Travis Kelce's...
'Take Care Of Maya': Kowalski Family Awarded $211 Million In Damages After...
"I’ve Lost All Faith": Does Paul Hollywood Speak for All 'Great British...
Where Is Michael Strahan On 'GMA'? Host Missing For Third Week In A Row As...
Kelly Ripa Calls Out 'The Golden Bachelor' Gerry Turner On 'Live': "You...
Where Is Michael Strahan Today On 'Good Morning America'?
Kyle Richards Breaks Down In Tears Discussing Marriage With Mauricio...
'Southern Charm' Star Madison LeCroy Says Shep Rose Is Open To Making Out...
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to copy URL
Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Mother’ on Netflix, a Gripping Japanese Drama About a Toxic Mother-Son Relationship
Where to stream:.
- Mother (2020)
- Stream It Or Skip It
Stream It Or Skip It: 'Julia' Season 2 On Max, Where Julia Child Tries To Follow Up The Success Of Her Cookbook And Public Television Series
Stream it or skip it: 'ghosts uk' on cbs, the original british series that spawned the american hit, stream it or skip it: 'christmas island' on hallmark, where a pilot and air traffic controller find love and lobster traps, stream it or skip it: 'the crown' season 6 on netflix, a look at the final weeks of princess diana's life.
I’ll help you sort this un-Google-able movie-title hell. The new 2020 Netflix film Mother is Japanese director Tatsushi Ohmori’s story about a young boy’s loyalty to his delinquent, abusive mother. Darren Aronofsky’s wildly, wonderfully disorienting mother! (2017), identifiable by that exclamation point, puts poor Jennifer Lawrence at the center of a hurricane of her husband’s — and the world’s? — madness. And Bong Joon Ho’s grossly overlooked Mother (2009) is a flipped-script version of Ohmori’s film; it’s about a mother’s loyalty being tested when her son is accused of murder. Are they all worth watching? For sure. Are they all extraordinary? REVIEW SPOILER ALERT: Yes!
MOTHER : STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Shuhei (Sho Gunji) plods sadly up the street, his knee scraped and bloody. Akiko (Masami Nagasawa), his mother, rides up to him on a bike. He’s likely been bullied; he’s not in school. That’s OK, because she skipped work anyway. She ebulliently licks his knee (yes, ick) and takes him to the public pool, where they jump in, ignoring the lifeguard’s insistence that they not do that. Akiko seems to be merely cheering up her son; she, too, was bullied for being different. It soon becomes clear she has no regard for rules of society or personal behavior. Many years will pass before Shuhei goes back to school. Yes, years.
But I’m getting ahead of things. Akiko and Shuhei visit her parents and sister. She owes all of them money, which doesn’t stop her from asking for more. “She’ll just gamble it away,” her mother grouses. Akiko screams and yells compulsively, instinctively, lashing out whenever she faces even the slightest adversity. She meets Ryo (Sadao Abe), and they’re birds of an impulsive, childish feather. She tries to pawn Shuhei off on Ujita — to whom she apparently gives sexual favors — before running off with Ryo. Shuhei, who’s maybe seven years old, spends six days on his own in their tiny apartment with no hot water, eating dry, uncooked noodles. When Akiko returns, she shows little concern for her son. But she and Ryo do try to use the boy as a prop to extort money from Ujita by accusing him of child molestation.
Then, Akiko gets pregnant. She drops the news on Ryo, who responds by beating her and Shuhei. He runs off. Akiko has Shuhei ask her mother and his biological father for money. His father asks Shuhei to come live with him. He refuses. Subtitle: 5 YEARS LATER. Fuyuka (Halo Asada) now tails Akiko and the teenage Shuhei (Daiken Okudaira). They’re homeless. Shuhei and his little sister wander the streets while Akiko sits at a slot machine. A social worker, Aya (Kaho Tsuchimura), finds them under a highway, sleeping, gets them a state-sanctioned place to stay. Ryo returns. Aya tells Shuhei he doesn’t have to stay with his mother. He refuses. It’s a vicious cycle.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I think I covered this in the intro. It also resembles Netflix original All Together Now , at least in a superficial manner, since it’s also about a homeless teenager with a problem mom.
Performance Worth Watching: Nagasawa is extraordinary as the mother who’s stuck in neutral, most likely due to some unidentified and untreated psychological stunting or mental illness. She’s the subject of the film’s powerfully ambiguous final shot.
Memorable Dialogue: Aya: “You can choose to live away from your mother if you want.”
Sex and Skin: A brief PG-13-grade non-nude sex scene.
Our Take: Mother is an engrossing, authentic and troubling portrait of mental illness, a extraordinarily written, directed and acted tragedy. Where so many films dogmatically hold up the concept of family togetherness as a moral endpoint, this one has the courage to call out such absolutism. The family in this movie needs to be broken. Shuhei has been sheltered from outside influence for so long, he considers his mother’s decisions to be valid merely because they’re hers, not because they’re in the family’s best interest. He wants to spend time with other children. He wants to attend school. He wants to read books. She doesn’t let him. And he quietly complies, his nature blockaded by nurture.
The film’s central mother-son relationship is a complex entanglement of enabling and codependence. She’s caught in cycles as abuser and the abused, and routinely, inexplicably rejects kindness, whether violently lashing out or quietly abandoning the situation forever. The story is told wholly from Shuhei’s point of view, but without his inability to discern cruelty from love. We’ll grow to hate this woman, and pity her, and our ability to empathize will be tested. Ohmori holds long, pregnant pauses in the dialogue whenever Shuhei ponders a choice in front of him. You’ll want to fill the silence with a frustrated scream.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Mother is a fascinating drama, gripping us until its brutal and ironic conclusion.
Should you stream or skip the gripping Japanese drama #Mother on @netflix ? #SIOSI — Decider (@decider) November 6, 2020
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba .
Stream Mother on Netflix
Does 'Yellowstone' Return Tonight? 'Yellowstone' Season 5, Part 2 Premiere Date Info
'take care of maya': kowalski family awarded $211 million in damages after johns hopkins children's hospital found liable in death of beata kowalski, donald trump reportedly hung up on kim kardashian after tense phone call: “you voted for biden and now you come asking me for a favor”, jenna bush hager cringes after seeing taylor swift and travis kelce's passionate post-concert kiss: "do they make out like that in front of her dad", mark consuelos stunned after kelly ripa claims she likes "big men who are flexible" on 'live': "do you", savannah chrisley reveals that her father todd has been targeted by prison guards and retaliated against after speaking out about the poor living conditions in prison.
Letterboxd — Your life in film
Forgotten username or password ?
Where to watch
2020 ‘MOTHER マザー’ Directed by Tatsushi Ōmori
She was the world to him.
Shuhei is leading a tough life. His alcoholic mother Akiko can only hook up with bad guys and order Shuhei to go get money from his disapproving grandparents instead of going to school. Except raising the little half-sister, his rock-bottom life seems to have no end.
Masami Nagasawa Daiken Okudaira Sadawo Abe Kaho Sarutoki Minagawa Taiga Nakano Kaho Tsuchimura Zenki Aramaki Shima Onishi Hana Kino Sho Gunji Halo Asada
Junko Sato Masahiro Handa Keizo Okamoto Takaharu Kanai Shunsuke Suzuki
Executive Producer Exec. Producer
Tatsushi Ōmori Takehiko Minato
Mazā, Mother, Mother Mazâ, MOTHER マザー：2020, Μητέρα, Maternidad, Lazos de sangre, Le lien du sang, Le Lien du sang, האם, Mother: Eltorzult szeretet, 마더, Laço Materno, แม่, Mẫu Tử Lầm Lỡ, 母亲, 母子逆緣, 母子情劫
Releases by Date
03 jul 2020, 08 jul 2021, 03 nov 2020, releases by country.
- Digital 16 Netflix
- Digital 12 Netflix
- Theatrical PG12
127 mins More at IMDb TMDb Report this page
Review by Comrade Ryan ★★★½ 3
Not to be confused with:
Mother (2009) mother! (2017) Mother (2017) Mother (1996) Mother (1926) Mother (2019) Mother (1952) Mother (2016) Mother (1990) Mother (1991)
This movie had potential to be great, but I feel it was let down by lack of character development, relying on general villainy to carry it's impact. No one changes throughout the film, maintaining the same emotional standpoints from start to finish. Though this works for the mother's character (especially when it comes to her abusive ex partner), Shuhei should've had some internal change. I'm not specifically saying that he should've stood up to her, I just wanted more from his arc and get that satisfying ending of him becoming a better man. But alas,…
Review by ana 🍄 ★★★ 2
accidentally watched this instead of Bong joon ho's Mother (2009)
now I'm depressed
Review by piyuu ★★★★ 2
Mother answers back to Shoplifter' s " Is giving birth automatically makes you a mother ?" as it shows that despite how toxic the parental bond is, there are children who can't seem to cut out the affection they have towards their parents. Also, rather than Shoplifters, this one felt much closer to Koreeda's Nobody Knows which was also based on a true story.
Review by Ashlea💧🦎🐜 ★★★★½ 1
I didn't realise that Tatsushi Oomori's scripts could get any more complex after his film The Ravine of Goodbye back in 2013 about a rape victim living with her perpetrator, but I was wrong! This viscerally devastating and crushing film details years of compounded abuse against a boy by his mother and how he chooses to stand by her selfish and cruel ways to the end. You could commend every one of the actors (children and all) for their performance in this film, and I think that comes down to the director's guidance. The score is ominous and tense and sprinkled into the movie at defining moments where history repeats itself: and the WORST MOTHER IN HISTORY manipulates, uses and…
Review by Paul Thomas ★★★★ 3
This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
To be raised as a kid with no parents would be rough, but what happens when you have a single parent and she happens to be a complete sociopath?
Mother answers that question in a movie that is somehow both immensely watchable and immensely hard to watch. Japanese director Tasushi Omori really explores the darkness of humanity and shines a light on a person who has no business being a parent.
Mother covers about 10 years of her son's life and shows how her abuse helps pull him into her madness and makes him a culprit.
Basically just imagine We Need to Talk About Kevin, but instead of the son being the insane one, it's the mother.
Review by irma ★★★★
i want to give the kids a hug so bad
Review by Umechan ★★★ 3
Mother is a hard watch of constant abusive, irresponsible and manipulative relationship between a mother and son.
Masami Nagasawa and Daiken Okudaira give very strong performances but I feel like the whole movie is solely depending on two of them. Nothing really stand out except for the performances.
Review by Zegan ★★★★ 1
he made the right and reasonable decision in the end
Review by Matthias Waiß ★★★★★
I loved that i hated every second of this
Review by seda ★★★
ok but where is the mother
Review by Philbert Dy ★★★½
The Netflix algorithm gets me. Mother is kind of like Shoplifters if it stripped the movie of any Koreeda romanticism and replaced it with a layer of Sion Sono's true crime cynicism. It's a miserable tale of a boy whose life is entirely consumed by his abusive, psychopathic mother, who basically uses him to elicit sympathy from people who have had enough of her shit. And when that stops working, she pushes him to do even worse things.
The length is tough, since this is largely unpalatable material to begin with. Sitting through two hours of this kid suffering the cruelty of his mother will be a test that a lot of people will likely not want to sit through.…
Review by Amritt Rukhaiyaar ★★★ 2
I wish the sociopath mother had some character development, but then if you look at it, that's the point. The life of a sociopath and everyone he/she is influencing is nothing but an endless cycle spiraling down the rabbit hole.
Upgrade to remove ads
Letterboxd is an independent service created by a small team, and we rely mostly on the support of our members to maintain our site and apps. Please consider upgrading to a Pro account —for less than a couple bucks a month, you’ll get cool additional features like all-time and annual stats pages ( example ), the ability to select (and filter by) your favorite streaming services, and no ads!
Select your preferred poster
Japanese cinema looked at awry
Mother (2020) review
While Tatsushi Ohmori is not a name the big audiences will know, those with an interest in Japanese cinema will surely know him from his impressive debut The Whispering of the Gods (2005) and his award-winning narratives A Crowd of Three (2010) and The Ravine of Goodbye (2013). His latest narrative, a narrative exploring, in a fictional way, an incident that occurred in 2014.
Available on Netflix .
One day, after losing her job, single mother Akiko (Masami Nagasawa) visits her parental home with her son Shuhei (Sho Gunji) with only one purpose: to ask her mother (Hana Kino) to lend her some money. Hearing this request, Akiko’s younger sister, Kaede (Kaho Tsuchimura) gets angry as her sister has never paid back a singly penny from the 200.000 Yen she lend to her. Akiko’s mother, for that matter, makes clear that she will never give another penny to her.
Not long thereafter, Akiko meets Ryo (Sadao Abe) in an arcade. They spend the night together – they drink and make love. The very next day, Akiko decides to go with him to Nagoya and gives her son to Tamori Ujita (Sarutoki Minagawa) to take care of.
While Mother offers a look into poverty and a subtle exploration of the governmental programs aiming to support (with mixed results) those who fell, due to certain circumstances, in poverty, the true focus of the narrative is not poverty as such, but the relational dynamics that Akiko installs in respect to her son and with respect to men.
While one could argue that Akiko assumes a position of victim when she visits her family to ask for money, such reading would efface the fact her subjective logic is molded by the familial situation she was brought up in. Her angry outburst at the family table reveals that her subjective position, due to her conflictual relation with her mother, is fundamentally structured around not-being-good-enough – or in other words, around being a failure. In more psychoanalytic terms, Akiko feels castrated in the reflective eye of the familial other/(M)Other.
The way she interacts with Ryo (as well as other men) is – and this is fundamental – function of this not-being-good-enough that structures Akiko’s subjective position. What she demands in these ‘romantic encounters’ is a kind of love that communicates that she is good enough – like any good hysteric, she is in search for a man for whom she is good enough. Every demand is an attempt to obtain from the male subject a pacifying answer to her ‘castration’, a pacifying answer to the impossible to satisfy question ‘Can you lose me? Do you love me?’. It is, in fact, this insatiable desire that dooms her to become the dupe of men – Ryo and others – and fall victim to either their (phallic) enjoyment or their phallic structured abuse (Narra-note 1, Psycho-note 1).
Akiko’s relation with Shuhei is also structured around Akiko’s subjective ‘traumatic’ mark. The two problematic elements that mark their relationship are function of Akiko’s desire for love and being-good-enough. The first problematic aspect in Akiko’s and Shuhei’s relation concerns the fact that Akiko utilizes her son Shuhei as a servant (e.g. sending him to buy cup-noodles for her and her male partner, send her money, lying for her, playing along with her (and her lover’s) schemes, … etc.) in support of her romantic endeavours but also to satisfy her need for love.
The second problematic element in their relation is that Akiko does not hesitate to abandon her son to give her romantic endeavours a chance. When Akiko has established a romantic relation, the subtle forms of physical and emotional neglect underline that the indulgence in passion and obtaining signs of his love takes precedence over her relationship with her son. But the verbal abuse/manipulation also reveals that Akiko wants to keep Shuhei under her thumb to satisfy, whenever she needs, her desire for love.
Shuhei, to satisfy his mother’s need for love as well as to ensure himself of her love, fulfills all her demands – he does what he is told to do out of love and for love (Psycho-note 2). It is, as a matter of fact, due to his own need for her love that he also fulfills the demands of his mother’s lover, Ryo. In other words, Shuhei, who does not consider Ryo as father, only accepts this exploitable position to show his love to his mother as well as to secure her love – and Akiko, for that matter, allows Ryo to utilize her son in this exploitative way to safeguard his love.
The fundamental questions that Mother poses in its exploration of Akiko’s subjective position and her relationship with her son and men are threefold. Firstly, what will the impact be of the insatiable desire of the mother for love and for being good enough? Secondly, can Shuhei escape the dynamic that structures his relationship with his mother? And lastly at what subjective/social cost will his escape or his failure to escape be?
The composition of Mother – a mix of static moments and measured dynamic moments, quite often within the same shot – is structured in such a way that the human relational drama can come to the fore in a highly sensible manner (Cine-note 1). It is, in fact, Ohmori’s cinematographical restraint (e.g. his reliance on static moments, his refusal to use musical accompaniment and cinematographical decorations to (visually/artificially) strengthen the drama) that forces the drama to be born from the performances as such.
The reason why Mother is such a thrilling and moving drama is thus due to various fabulous performances, i.e. the beautifully layered performance of Masami Nagasawa, Sadao Abe’s crude powerful performance, and Hana Kino’s emotional performance. It is, as a matter of fact, due to these wonderful performances that Mother succeeds in gripping the spectator’s attention from start to finish.
Tatsushi Ohmori‘s Mother is a wonderful exploration of how a subjective drama – i.e. the subjective drama of not-being-good-enough – is able to structure all future relationships or, in other words, is able to dictate the relational dynamics. In a languid but highly transparent way, Ohmori confronts the spectator with the subjective and interpersonal ravage the insatiable desire for love and the need for a proof of the other’s love eventually causes. But what turns into Mother into a harrowing and haunting experience is not the way in which the narrative explores its themes as such, but how Masami Nagasawa, Sadao Abe, Hana Kino, …etc. breath realism into the unfolding of this tragedy of love.
Narra-note 1: We should not forget to underline that Akiko utilizes her body in a more instrumental/manipulative way as well. This instrumental usage of her body, a usage to gain something from the male other (e.g. a place to stay, money, …) without loving him, nevertheless satisfies her desire to be loved and to be good enough. The response of the male other to her demands is always unconsciously taken as an answer on the question: Am I good enough (for you)?
Psycho-note 1: Each romantic failure or separation is, in fact, a repetition of the initial ‘trauma’ or, in better words, a cooperation of not-being-good-enough.
Psycho-note 2: It should also be mentioned that the demands of the mother towards Shuhei are demands for love as well. Each demand to her son is a demand for proof of his love.
In this respect, it would not be strange to say that the subjective state of being-not-good-enough lies at the basis of all Akiko’s behaviour – be it towards her son or towards her male romantic interests. The goal of every demand and every act is to obtain proof of the other/Other’s love. But as such proof can only satisfy the subject temporary, the demands for love never end.
Cine-note 1: Ohmori also utilizes subtle shaky ‘static’ moments and dynamic moments in his composition. These ‘shaky’ moments, due to their resemblance to documentary filming, have no other function than to heighten the ‘realism’ of this fictionalized account of the real-life incident. In some rare cases, the use of shaky shots, as a side-effect, strengthens the evoking of tension.
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
2 Comments Add yours
- Pingback: Top 10 Japanese films of 2020 – psycho-cinematography
- Pingback: Goodbye Cruel World (2022) review [Japannual 2022] – psycho-cinematography
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
- Already have a WordPress.com account? Log in now.
- Follow Following
- Copy shortlink
- Report this content
- View post in Reader
- Manage subscriptions
- Collapse this bar