TRUE MOTHERS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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l. As an infant, I was lucky to be adopted by a truly loving couple and extended family that never treated me as anything other than one of them. But I was born at a time when little info was provided to my adoptive parents about why my mother wanted someone else to raise me. Did she love me? Did she have me out of wedlock? Did she have second thoughts about raising me by herself?

I finally got some answers about why she made the decision to give me up after the state of New York finally allowed adoptees like me to get non-identifying info about my heritage. I would finally learn why my unmarried birth mom decided my fate in the way she did. I received copies of letters that she sent to a social worker at a facility for unwed mothers, a place not so different than what is shown on screen. I learned she had second thoughts initially about giving me up, especially after I suffered a bout of thrush. But, in the end, she felt that being raised by two parents would provide me with a better life.

What most got to me about Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase’s touching drama about a well-off Tokyo couple with an adopted 5-year-old son were the two mothers at the center of the story. Alas, parts of the plot felt like a marital soap opera as Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Kiyokazu (Arata Iura) get bogged down in their fertility problems. Other times it seems as if there is some criminal intrigue afoot when the teen birth mom Hikaru (Aju Makita), who grows up to be a sullen adult that is shamed by her own family, decides to hunt down the married pair who is raising her child.

It’s a bit annoying that the storyline doubles back several times to show both sides of the narrative. Kawase also seems to be making a statement via Mother Nature, with countless images of swaying branches, scenic waterways and soaring birds. The camera is especially keen on blinding bursts of sunlight. However, what saves Japan’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars are the authentic and sincerely moving performances by Iura and Makita as well as the reconciliation between the two mothers by the end. The message that matters? That maternal love can come in many forms.

EDITOR’S NOTE:True Mothers is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for January 29, 2021

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.