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Watch on Mother’s Day: 3 Japanese films that remind us that moms are always special

No matter how much we age, no one can replace mom.

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For most of us, mothers have a very special place in our hearts regardless of whether we openly admit it or embarrassingly hide it. And while one day in the year is certainly not enough to show our love and gratitude to mom, Mother’s Day, celebrated internationally, is a good start.

Japan’s version of Mother’s Day is believed to have started in the early 20th Century, though it wasn’t until 1949 that it began taking grounds as a special day following the US model. In Japan, Mother’s Day, (called Haha no Hi) is not a national holiday, but is celebrated annually on the second Sunday of May. On that day, children and adults typically give flowers, most commonly red carnations, to their mothers, while younger children often draw portraits of their mothers or give them handwritten “help or massage tickets” which the mother can use upon request. Many families celebrate by having special dinners or cakes and those whose mothers live far away, usually celebrate by sending flowers, a small present or simply calling them.

To mark the event this year, we look at three Japanese movies that show what miracles a mother’s love can make and remind us that no matter how old we become, mom is always special.

1. Her Love Boils Bathwater (湯を沸かすほどの熱い愛), 2016

When Futaba learns that she has a few months to live, contrary to what everyone expects, she doesn’t lose hope. She quickly puts together a bucket list and gets down to business. Mission one: find her gone-missing husband; mission two: restore the local spa the two used to run; mission three: help her teenage daughter overcome bullying. Full of vitality despite her illness, Futaba is a character that juggles so much at once, making everybody in the family realize once again — before it’s too late — who’s the glue that keeps everyone together. A bittersweet family saga that portrays a sad plot in a rather comical way, Her Love Boils Bathwater will make you rethink all those moments when your mother has lived to the fullest fearless and full of so much love.

The movie became a major hit in Japan following its release, winning its cast and staff over a dozen of awards, including Best Actress (Rie Miyazawa) and Best Supporting Actress (Hana Sugisaki) at the 40th Japan Academy Prize.

Cast: Rie Miyazawa, Hana Sugisaki, Joe Odagiri
Director: Ryota Nakano

2. When My Mom Died, I Wanted to Eat Her Ashes (母を亡くした時、僕は遺骨を食べたいと思った。), 2019

When it comes to families, we (sadly) often take things for granted: kind words that should be told remain unexpressed; care that should be provided isn’t, and limited time is lived as if there’ll always be tomorrow. This is the story of Satoshi, an aspiring manga artist in his late 30s. Since his early childhood, he had always relied on his mother Akiko to take care of him and keep up his good moods, something that cheerful and hard-working Akiko had always been great at. But Akiko has cancer and won’t live long. Satoshi tries hard to fight fate and make his mother’s last days special, but she passes away despite his efforts. Six months after her death, Satoshi moves to Tokyo to realize his dream of becoming a manga artist where one day he receives a special gift from his late mother. A heartfelt story about the profound relationship between a mother and son, this drama based on true events, is one that will leave you in tears.

Cast: Ken Yasuda, Mitsuko Baisho, Nao Matsushita
Director: Tatsushi Omori

3. Kaasan Mom’s Life (毎日かあさん), 2011

A live-action adaptation of Rieko Saibara’s best-selling manga based on her own life, Kaasan Mom’s Life is a movie about the reality, struggles, happiness and loneliness of trying to be a responsible parent. Told from the point of view of “kaasan” Saibara, the film follows the life of a family of four: a mom working as a professional manga artist, an alcoholic father, and two very sweet but sometimes naughty children. Saibara is responsible for sustaining the family financially, raising her children properly and taking care of a husband who just won’t quit the booze. “Everyday mom,” as the film translates, is ultimately a heartwarming tale of families overcoming misfortunes, weaknesses and life struggles in the name of holding it close together. You will recognize your own family somewhere as you watch — no doubt about that.

Cast: Kyoko Koizumi, Masatoshi Nagase
Director: Shotaro Kobayashi

If this Mother’s Day you want to give mom something special, or you just want to remember her in your own way, take a note from these three heartwarming movies: we don’t get to choose our mothers and they all come with their imperfections and failures. But at the end of the day, there is no other figure in our lives like mom, the woman (or women) who have helped us shape who we are today.

Text by Rose Haneda