Director: Azuma Morisaki
Starring: Harue Akagi, Ryo Iwamatsu, Kiwako Harada, Ryo Kase, Tomoyo Harada, Kensuke Owada
Adapted from the manga, Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days follows the middle aged widower Yuuichi “Pecoross” Okano (Ryo Iwamatsu) and his struggles with his increasingly dementia stricken mother Mitsue (Harue Akagi). With the help of his son (Kensuke Owada) and an amazing crew at a senior care center, Yuuichi and Mitsue navigate advanced age differently; Yuuichi through his gropes at youthful energy and Mitsue with her loss of memory and new surroundings.
One of the few of the ‘old guard’ of Japanese cinema, director Azuma Morisaki directs this tender and warm comedy-drama about life, love, and the life changing bits that can define a person. Delivering an amazingly polished film, we see a cleanly shot and deeply engrossing picture that defines adulthood for a Japanese generation that has lived through the end of WWII and the country-changing times of the post-war reconstruction. Stylistically, we see quite a bit of Morisaki’s collaborative work with Yoji Yamada and his humor more than in one way feels like the eponymous Tora-san series of films. Humorous but dramatically engaging, the film was exactly what I look for in Japanese drama.
Much of the praise can be placed on the absolutely winning performances by Iwamatsu and the radiant Akagi. Iwamatsu’s frustration with his mother’s increasingly senility is very much at odds with his desire to be a dutiful son and his love for his family. Akagi herself is a joy in nearly every scene she appears; her harmless antics a source of exasperation to her family but pure entertainment to the audience. The film does allow both to stretch their dramatic muscles as the prospect of assisted living comes into the picture, but it offers a generally hopeful look at the, at times, terrifying idea of moving away from family and into an unfamiliar place filled with strangers. Mitsue is played by Kiwako Harada in her married life flashbacks and she exhibits a charming and beautifully strong view of women in the 50s and 60s. These elements lean much more on the heavy drama side of things as obstacles seemed much more insurmountable to a young mother during modernization.
The supporting cast does well with Ryo Kase portraying the very flawed but still loving father and a very welcome and surprise appearance from personal favorite Naoto Takenaka. Takenaka’s appearance brings quite a bit of levity by this point in the picture and while the ultimate payoff for his character is seen from miles away to anyone at all familiar with his profile, it manages to remains endearing regardless. One of the most striking themes of the film lays in the importance the characters play on memories. Mitsue is slowly losing hers, Yuuichi is recalling his childhood and his departed father, and the idea of remembering the good times despite the presence of bad is a fine sentiment. While life can be difficult, extremely difficult at times, it is important to continue living for those moments that stick with us forever and for those that make life worth living. The relationships and joys that life has to bring come with the dark, as all lives do, but it’s the enduring human spirit that sets us apart from all other creatures.
Set primarily in picturesque Amakusa and Nagasaki, the cinematography of the film is a both a love letter to the history and beauty of these locations. Rolling hills and waterfront photography speckle the film and while it does not appear to be as exciting as the much busier Tokyo, the locale more than makes me wish to travel there one day to enjoy the lovely area. The score, by Katsu Hoshi and Yuzo Hayashi, is intimate but widely moving. Iwamatsu plays a handful of vocal performances that are both catchy and help to define his character. A vocal song, sung by Mitsue throughout her life, takes on powerful meaning as the film progresses and offers a great commentary for the film as whole.
In the end, Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days is a triumphantly entertaining and endearing comedy that will amuse just as easily as pull on your heartstrings. Wonderfully combing the comedy and dramatic elements seamlessly, Morisaki shows decades of experience and has crafted a wholly enjoyable and uplifting film which promises multiple viewings. My grandmother recently turned 91 years of age earlier this year and I could not help but draw comparisons between her and the sweet and strong Mitsue and while their vastly different life experiences each made a loving mother, the quiet strength that each carries is unmistakably similar. A tribute to classic Japanese dramatic comedy, Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days, is among the best Japanese dramas I’ve seen in years. A must see.
Special Thanks to Tidepoint Pictures for providing a viewing copy!