MY MOTHER’S BOAT
Contrary to children of the sea and its cryptic story around two boys raised by sea mammals, Luck smiles on Mrs. Nikuko promised a more down-to-earth, conventional take on an already well-worn trope about family ties and personal fulfillment. But if it does not actually approach its subject in such an experimental and metaphysical way despite a few whimsical touches, this new feature film is a new artistic demonstration which this time flirts with the expressionist current to portray its central figure.
From the introduction, some factual elements are slipped in about Mrs. Nikuko, in particular the fact that she is 1m50 tall and weighs just under 68 kilos. It is therefore an overweight woman, but still far from morbid obesity from an objective point of view. Yet she is presented throughout the film as a huge shapeless, short-legged mass, unable to eat without engulfing her food and dripping with sweat at the slightest physical exertion; in other words a degrading and grossophobic representation that goes so far as to implicitly quote My Neighbor Totoro and exaggerating all his movements and facial expressions to exacerbate this deformity.
Like mother like daughter, but not always at first glance
But it is neither the director nor the screenwriter Satomi Ohshima who starts from this discriminating and hurtful postulate, but her daughter Kikurin who projects her subjectivity and therefore the negative perception she has of her mother on screen, disguising reality and our own vision of the character. The pre-teen, despite the obvious affection she has for her, rejects and underestimates the one she sees above all as an embarrassing and irresponsible “meat-woman”, to the point where the only certainty she has in the life is that of not wanting to be like him.
The girl thus cultivates what differentiates her from her mother to build herself in opposition to her, whether on an intellectual level (by immersing himself in books), behavioral – with more graceful manners and a less pronounced Osaka accent – or even physical with his slender and prepubescent body which contrasts with the less elegant graphic charter and more abstract from Nikuko. However, she never displays her judgment and narrow-mindedness head-on, preferring a few passive-aggressive remarks and mental ruminations to guide a story that is nevertheless tender, benevolent and melodramatic.
Teenagers, these ingrates
MY MOTHER, this HERO
Mrs. Nikuko finally finds favor in the eyes of her daughter when the latter becomes aware of the heavy secret that she has been keeping for more than ten years and by extension all the love they have for each other. Her new perception of her mother translates visually with the last shot of the film which lingers on Nikuko’s soothed face, who for the first time lets out a tender gaze and a soft voice a thousand leagues from the clumsy, cartoonish fanatic met an hour and a half earlier.
It must be said that beyond being a force of nature who has demonstrated all his life of resilience, altruism and optimism without ever asking for anything in return, Mrs. Nikuko is also a model of emancipation who defies all the norms and injunctions of Japanese society.especially concerning the modesty, beauty and discretion generally expected in a woman.
Because we all would like to be a Mrs. Nikuko
Without worrying about the image we may have of her, this uninhibited single mother dares to take up space and approach men openly. She talks loudly and laughs loudly, wears flashy clothes, behaves immaturely, and apparently has no lack of confidence and self-esteem. The others, including spectators, are also the only ones to fixate on his weight and to characterize it primarily through its opulence.
Mrs. Nikuko is therefore a particularly endearing and inspiring character, especially in her philosophy at first sight dumb, but which simply consists of being satisfied with the ordinary and seeing serenity where the rest of the world only sees banality. . If this woman managed to take charge of her life and find her way, Kikurin is still looking for his own, as well as the approval of his entourage, without understanding the many values conveyed by his mother. It’s pretty silly and mechanical said like that, but just enough and moving enough to shed a tear or two and find resonance on the other side of the screen.
Rejection in response to insecurity
COMING OF AGE
The portrait of Nikuko is therefore inseparable from the initiatory quest of Kikurin who learns as much about her mother as about herself. But her personal construction also involves the relationships she maintains outside her home, particularly at school. Rather than betting on a classic narrative scheme with a trigger and adventures, the story is arranged as a series of slices of lifewhich make it possible to approach without necessarily too many links a quarrel between girlfriends full of unspoken words and the meeting of a boy who confronts her with another form of difference.
More practical than deep sub-plots which do not have the same writing force and serve to spread several commonplaces about youth or friendship with less sensitivity, while topics like menstruation and the cultural taboo surrounding it are barely touched upon. This succession of chapters, however, recalls the literary origin of the story – adapted from a novel by Kanako Nishi – and gives the film a slower pace and a more contemplative tone suited to the tranquility of its picturesque backdrop.
A haven of peace, far from the hustle and bustle of big cities
Whether through the daily life of the inhabitants, like the regulars of the restaurant where Nikuko works as a waitress, or certain events like the school sports tournament, the film follows the passage of time in this modest coastal village and illustrates it in every shot, whether with invasive vegetation, moss on the hulls of boats or rust near the port.
If the narration shows some weaknesses and facilities (in particular the last act, which is more mechanical and hasty in its unfolding), the feature film is therefore a new visual gem that we can only be delighted to discover on the big screen.