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Review of Kana Hatakeyama’s okaasan (mom)

Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Edited and Posted by Sophie Schmidt

okassan (mom) (2018) 17 minutes and 53 seconds. Directed by Kana Hatakeyama. Written by Kana Hatakeyama. Produced by Kana Hatakeyama. Staring Kako Hatakeyama and Kana Hatakeyama.  

Still from okaasan (mom).


Kana Hatakeyama’s 2018 short film, okaasan (mom) explores vital themes like family, the monotony of life and the longing we feel to be close to those who are no longer here, and loved ones you don’t want to lose. A concept that director Hatekeyama focuses on in the film is culture, specifically how culture gives us a chance to create and engage in traditions that shape our lives, create our memories and is on occasion the only thing we have left to hold on to. She captures a relationship between a daughter, played by herself and a mother, played by Kako Hatakeyama, her real-life mother, who do not live together, are working their own jobs and leading their own lives, but press pause on those things to spend time together. During that union, what becomes evident to the mother is how her daughter has been impacted by the loss of her grandmother, which has resulted in her needing her mother’s embrace, despite some communication that suggests she prefers distance. 

At times in Hatakeyama’s film, the daughter expresses a deep desire to be close to her mother while at other times verbally distancing herself. As the creative force of the film behind and in front of the camera, Hatekyama delivers a piece of art that portrays a relationship between a mother and daughter who experience emotions that many viewers can relate to. 

The film focuses on connections between three different generations and shows the impact that each individual has on the other. Kana Hatekayama portrays the mother as someone who lives an active life, is energetic, self-sufficient, and doesn’t seem to struggle to take care of herself. The daughter’s actions suggest that she needs to be taken care of emotionally. In the opening scene of the movie, Hatakeyama features a sustained shot of the mother walking her dog while on the phone with her daughter, who talks about having an intense schedule and being tired. This is one of the scenes where Hatakeyama depicts the mother as being active and engaged in physical activity, while her daughter verbalizes that she is tired. In another scene, the mother is standing and folding clothes while her daughter sits on the couch. During this interaction, the mother asks the daughter whether she wants to go to the cemetery or whether they should watch a movie together. The daughter expresses that she is tired, and  just wants to relax and watch TV. During the interaction, the two women are in what appears to be a living room where a television is on with no sound coming from it, and the sound that viewers hear is the dialogue between the mother and daughter, the latter complains about the house being cold. The mom who is dressed in a long sleeve garment and pants encourages her daughter to put some more clothes on. Instead of the daughter taking her mom’s suggestion, the mom gets a heater to make her daughter more comfortable. In scenes like this, Hatakeyama contrasts the mom and the daughter by showing the mom being active while the daughter verbally expresses her fatigue and unenthusiastically responds to her mom’s invitations to spend time together. 

The daughter likens the coldness in her mother’s home to something that makes her own home a place where she would be better off. The coldness that the daughter experiences seems to be less about the temperature of the house and more about her struggling to deal with the void caused by her grandma’s death, which could make even a warm home where the thermostat is on 82 degrees feel like a winter’s day. Although the daughter verbalizes that she is tired, and at times appears to prefer lounging and rest over time with her mother,  she is clearly mourning her grandmother and missing her presence in her life. 

 In scenes where the daughter and mother are heading to the cemetery and while they are in the cemetery, Hatakeyama shows viewers a more mentally and emotionally present side of the daughter. The daughter cleans her grandma’s grave and shares a reflective and deep, prayerful homage where she expresses her emotions. Like in other scenes in the film, the mother and daughter’s showing of emotion and perspectives are different. 

While the mom seems to respond to most of her daughter’s requests, the times where she expresses some reluctance to do so are, in some ways, as telling as the times where she isn’t reluctant to respond to her daughter’s needs. At the cemetery the daughter expresses she is ready to move forward with traditions that honor her grandma, while the mother seems to be the one struggling to come to terms with the death, which is expressed when she says, “I am not done sorting through Grandma’s stuff so I have no idea where things are.” The mom’s  comment communicates that she still has a lot of emotions to sort through, and although her active lifestyle in other scenes seems to suggest she has moved on, the scene in the cemetery communicates otherwise. I appreciate the different perspectives Hatakeyama presents in okaasan (mom). It’s a film where a mom’s caring and concern for a daughter can be mistaken for nagging, and a daughter’s coldness can be viewed as ungrateful and rejecting her mother’s love, despite it potentially being a defense mechanism she uses to remedy the loss of her grandmother. 

As someone who has always been very close to my parents, since moving away from home, I’ve always known that the occasional visits and trips whether made by me or my parents are ones that I am grateful for, but that I would like to increase and have more of. I’ve been grateful to feel that warmth that I feel when I visit my parents, even though I have my own home. By contrast, in okaasan (mom), the daughter likens the coldness in her mother’s home to something that makes her own home a place where she would be better off, while in a variety of ways acknowledging that she wants to be close to her mom 

As the film unfolds, Hatakeyama captures the beautiful and powerful point that sometimes the only thing that can rejuvenate and energize us is our mother’s love and warmth. The mother is concerned about her daughter’s well-being, and at some points seems to want her daughter to exemplify the same interest in her well-being or life—but the interest while arguably mutual is expressed in different ways. We see it quite clearly in a scene when the daughter accompanies her mother in the bathtub.  While some viewers may see it as an atypical or  abnormal gesture, others may recognize it as a daughter’s attempt to be as close as possible to her mother as she can

Through Hatakeyama’s writing and acting we get a sense that the daughter’s sadness sprung from something deeper than losing her grandmother, but still captures a truth, which is that, losing a family member is more than enough to be a derailing experience that sends us into a type of loathing that concerns those who love us.

As the film shows, the loss of the family member is something that at times seems to impact mother and daughter differently, but at other times it is a shared reflective mourning and memorializing. Even in a film, where the mother and daughter’s differences are shown, Hatekyama manages to present the mother and daughter’s togetherness and the closeness of their relationship, which she illustrates when she shows them participating in traditions at a cultural festival where the daughter wears her grandma’s garments. Birds chirp and a bell chimes while the mother and daughter engage in a set of rituals and traditions that honor their loved one’s memory and helps them bond. In what appears to be a pitch-black scene, the daughter apologizes to her mother and when her mom asks, “For what?” She responds, “Not being able to be with you more.” The mom consoles her daughter, and lets her know that it’s okay. 

What becomes evident throughout watching Okaasan (mom) is that celebrating family traditions, and honoring the life of a loved one who died can result in emotions and grief that were being suppressed being pushed to the forefront for those who are left to carry their legacies on. Hatakeyama takes viewers on a trip that shows that sometimes going down memory lane is the best way to move forward with those you love.

You can watch the trailer for okaasan (mom) on Vimeo, and you can view the film on Vimeo, NoBudge, and Directors Notes. Follow the film on Facebook. Keep up with Kana Hatakeyama on Instagram, her website, and IMDB. Connect with Sharieka on her profile.

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