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Movie Reviews : ‘Mother’ and ‘Father': A Pair for the Family

Keisuke Kinoshita’s “Father” and Zenzo Matsuyama’s “Mother” (opening Friday at the Little Tokyo Cinemas) make an endearing double feature of warmth and briskness from two veteran writer-directors. The first is a comedy, the second combines drama with humor, and both handle sentimentality with vigor and dispatch. They have much of the quality and appeal of the Tora-san pictures.

Every family usually has its rolling stone, and in “Father” it’s broad-faced, 40-year-old Kikutaro Higure (Eiji Bando), a man who runs for office promising to cap an active volcano, promotes female wrestling and imports a black Brazilian singer of little or no appeal to Japanese audiences.

As Kikutaro restlessly moves from city to city, searching for new get-rich-quick schemes, his chic, capable wife (Kiwako Taiji) manages a series of bars, beauty shops and restaurants while her doughty, plain-spoken mother-in-law (Kin Sugai, in a wonderful comic portrayal) raises their son (Makoto Nonomura).

What emerges is not a condemnation of the foolish but irrepressible Kikutaro but rather an appreciation of his capacity for loving and inspiring love in return. Chuji Kinoshita’s “Bolero"-tinged score good-naturedly keeps Kikutaro marching off from one folly to another.

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“Mother” is in the classic Japanese tradition of paying homage to the monumentally self-sacrificing wife and mother. In a heroic yet humorous portrayal, Jitsuko Yoshimura makes this peasant woman as passionately devoted to her five small children as to her husband (Takuzo Kawatani).

But when he’s left paralyzed after being thrown from a horse, she bluntly tells the youngsters that they must consider her dead, for now she must devote her every waking hour away from the fields to caring for their helpless father.

Amazingly, Matsuyama has been able to find humor in the zealousness of her joyous servitude as the children, by sticking together, survive maternal rejection and grow to appreciate her devotion to their father. The film’s unlikely finish goes over the top shamelessly, but by then Yoshimura has captivated us so thoroughly it doesn’t much matter. (Both films are Times-rated Family).


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