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  • Writer's pictureRobin Syversen


Updated: May 29, 2023

A Modern Classic in Japan - An Overlooked Gem Abroad!

Director: Azuma Morisaki

Cast: Ryô Iwamatsu, Mitsuko Baishô, Kiwako Harada, Kensuke Owada, Ryô Kase

Related films: Tora-san His Tender Love, Still Walking, Tokyo Sonata

Studio: Pecoross' Mother and Her Days Production Committee (?)

Year: 2013

Verdict: 5/6


«Best Japanese Film of 2013»

– Kinema Junpô –

Introducing Pecoross' Mother and Her Days

Pecoross' Mother and Her Days is an epic family saga disguised as a tragicomic drama. Moreso, it’s a poignant exploration of the bond between a son and his mother, set against the backdrop of a rapidly aging Japanese society.

From the get-go, the audience is thrown into the middle of the story, which perfectly underlines the nonlinear nature of the narrative. From there on, our tale unfolds like the proverbial peeling of an onion, or in this case, a pecoross (small onion).

Pecoross' Mother and Her Days tackles the complexities of dementia while offering rare insight into the human condition and the tenacity of familial love. It's a story that transcends cultural and generational divides, reflecting the essence of shared human experiences.

The Historical and Cultural Context of Pecoross

Pecoross' Mother and Her Days is set in contemporary Japan, a society grappling with a rapidly aging population and age-old traditions of filial piety. As such, the story sheds light on a widespread and often ignored social issue, bringing the silent struggle of countless families into focus.

Inspired by the comic series of the same name by Yuichi Okano, Pecoross' Mother and Her Days brilliantly transformed these issues into a cinematic event. Okano's own experiences from caring for his mother, who had dementia, offer an intimate, first-hand perspective on the challenges and joys that come with caring for an elderly parent.

The message of Pecoross' Mother and Her Days was warmly welcomed and got significant acclaim in Japan, but its international recognition has been more limited. This could be attributed to the film's deeply rooted cultural nuances, which may resonate less well abroad. But before elaborating on this, we need to explain why this hidden gem is so good.

Azuma Morisaki’s Vision for Pecoross' Mother and Her Days

With an illustrious career spanning over five decades, Azuma Morisaki constantly reinvented his style. He became well-known for his ability to capture the intricate textures of everyday life and paint them onto the cinematic canvas.

It didn’t take Morisaki more than a year to successfully adapt the manga about Pecoross to the screen. The blend of influences from different genres and several eras made a powerful impact that hit home among critics and audiences alike.

Morisaki breathed life into the comic's characters, skillfully translating their stories onto the big screen in a way that remained faithful to the original material while offering a fresh perspective.

The balance between tragedy and comedy was done with great confidence. Coupled with skipping back and forth in time, it made for a compelling mix of period drama and modern-day dramedy.

As such, a tale from WWII to the present was laid before us and connected like puzzle pieces. Along the way, the story added depth by touching upon many social issues.

Morisaki's storytelling didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life but instead found beauty in everyday obstacles and tragedies. Most of all, he encouraged viewers to find their own truths within his masterful storytelling.

The Story of Pecoross | A Slice of Modern Japanese Life

Yuichi, nicknamed Pecoross for his onion-shaped bald head, is a middle-aged man living with his son and mother. They all lead average lives; the son attending school, the father working as a salaryman, and the mother «enjoying retirement» at home.

Pecoross tries to expand his horizons as a manga artist and musician in his spare time. Lately, though, his mother, Mitsue, has become increasingly difficult to care for as her dementia is getting increasingly severe.

Tragic as the situation may be, the tension is lightened by a strain of dementia-related comedy. At the same time, some serious undertones are maintained in the form of flashbacks from the mother’s past.

Among the more substantial memories are the nuclear attack on Nagasaki in 45 and the subsequent loss of a sister to radiation sickness. It is also revealed that Pecoross’ father was an abusive drunk who caused his family much distress.

As the plot thickens and the hardship of home caring intensifies, Pecoross finally decides to put his mother in a home. This was not an easy decision, but a necessary one.

Mitsue could no longer be trusted to take care of herself, but at the same time, having to adjust to an entirely new environment in such a state only adds to the stress of the situation.

This leads to some serious soul-searching. On his personal journey, Pecoross has to confront the two-sided nature of a lifelong co-dependent relationship with his mother.

On the one hand, he long to be free from parental shackles. On the other, he realizes that the bond between the two is one he might not want to break. Soon he will have no choice, however, as the mother slips further away every day.

Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days Analysis

On paper, Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days seems to gape over too many topics and storylines for a two-hour film. However, it all falls into place like the layers of a painting in process, slowly revealing the vision from the artist’s inner eye.

The story is focused on personal misfortune in light of the aftereffects caused by a national tragedy. Between the lines, we are presented with a commentary on the societal repercussions of the post-war economic boom and the resulting shifts in family structures and responsibilities.

Trapped by Traditions in Modern-Day Japan

At its core, the film reflects on the societal impact of Japan's aging population and the subsequent challenges it places on younger generations, who must reconcile their personal ambitions and the inherent duty to care for their elders.

The depiction of the healthcare system subtly critiques the Japanese government's approach to caring for the elderly. There is a sense of inefficiency and inadequacy, implying a need for change to better support an aging population and those responsible for their care.

Yuichi represents the "salaryman" archetype of Japan's modern corporate culture, juggling his time between work, his passion for music, and caring for his mother. His struggles underscore the pressures placed on individuals by Japan's work-centric society, which often overlooks personal life and familial obligations.

The challenge of balancing work life in a high-pressure, technologically advanced society with caring for an elderly parent reflects a broader societal issue: the tension between societal progress and the preservation of deeply ingrained traditional values.

Furthermore, Pecoross' Mother and Her Days poignantly highlights the widespread social isolation urban modernity brings. The bustling megacity setting starkly contrasts with the dwindling personal connections that characterized traditional Japanese communities.

Yuichi’s struggle to meaningfully connect with others amidst the demands of a fast-paced, impersonal modern society paints a sobering portrait of Japan's struggle to marry its future with its past.

These issues persist in Japan, manifesting in high rates of loneliness and a societal struggle to care for an increasingly aging population. Pecoross' Mother and Her Days compellingly portrayed the ongoing tension between modernism and traditionalism while discreetly shedding light on Japan's mental health issues.

A Victim of Mental Health Stigma in Post-War Japan

As the story of Pecoross' Mother and Her Days unpeels on screen, we're gently ushered into a poignant conversation on Japan's complex relationship with mental health. It shows a society still learning to understand and empathize with mental health issues, revealing the need for societal growth and acceptance.

In the aftermath of World War II, Japan grappled with many challenges, not least of which was addressing mental health issues. Unfortunately, a society that traditionally took pride in its stoic perseverance and communal harmony often neglected the individual's mental well-being.

Whispered dialogues and stigma created a barrier akin to an invisible shoji screen, obscuring access to psychiatric help. Instead, medication became the silent custodian of the country's collective mental distress, serving as a simple band-aid over an intricate tapestry of psychological struggles.

Pecoross' Mother and Her Days use its characters as proxies for these systemic failings, with Mitsue’s dementia poignantly portrayed as an echo of the unvoiced cries for help from millions over the decades, given silence rather than solace, pills instead of psychotherapy.

However, beneath the layers of critique lies an underlying optimism. The present-day is not a replica of the past. Despite its historical reluctance, today's Japan has begun to recognize the importance of mental health, pulling away from an over-reliance on pharmaceutical treatments and making strides towards embracing therapeutic intervention.

Nevertheless, the cinematic narrative of Pecoross' Mother and Her Days is a powerful reminder of a journey still underway. The film is not merely a window into a mother's fading memory but a mirror reflecting the evolution of Japan's relationship with mental health - a transition from neglect and silence to acknowledgment and conversation.

Pecoross' Mother and Her Days subtly invites us to ponder the societal and political changes required to tackle these issues effectively. As the reel spins, it leaves the viewers with a lingering question: how long until this transition is complete?

Pecoross' Leads the Way to Self-Reflection

The themes of dementia and aging in Pecoross' Mother and Her Days thoroughly makes the issue of an aging population hit home. Pecoross makes the issue of national proportions personal in a way that we can all sympathize with.

Mitsue's struggle with dementia symbolizes the cruel, indiscriminate nature of time. Despite its stark portrayal, the film manages to highlight the dignity and grace inherent in the human spirit, even when faced with such adversity.

Memories, both beautiful and painful, permeate the narrative. They serve as poignant reminders of a time when Mitsue was vibrant and vivacious. The frequent flashbacks underline the importance of memories in shaping our identity and providing a connection to our past, a connection that dementia gradually erodes.

The deep bond between Pecoross and his mother is the film's lifeblood. This bond transcends the constraints of time, disease, and memory loss. The steadfast love Pecoross demonstrates for his mother is emblematic of the universal language of familial love in its purest form.

Holding it all together is a heartfelt tale of a family’s struggle to survive. The story of Pecoross has many layers and depth beyond your average dramedy, but at the forefront is a relatable story about the hard decisions that most people have to face at one time or another in their lifetime.

A Modern Japanese Classic Overlooked Overseas

Pecoross' Mother and Her Days garnered significant praise from critics across Japan, with many hailing it as a moving exploration of love, aging, and memory. Critics lauded the film for its honest portrayal of dementia, its nuanced characters, and its successful adaptation of the beloved comic series.

The reception from Japanese audiences was overwhelmingly positive. Viewers were moved by the film's raw and poignant depiction of a mother-son relationship and the trials of dementia.

Despite its success in Japan, Pecoross' Mother and Her Days only reached a niche audience internationally. The film has been screened at several notable film festivals worldwide, where it has been met with a warm reception and earned recognition for its thoughtful narrative and artful direction.

Critical reception outside of Japan was mixed, however. While some praised the film for its nuanced depiction of dementia and familial relationships, others found its cultural specificities challenging to translate to outside audiences.

The limited international popularity of Pecoross' Mother and Her Days can perhaps be attributed to the cultural nuances embedded within the film, which may not resonate as deeply with non-Japanese audiences.

However, the film’s universal themes and the growing global awareness of dementia-related issues may yet see it find a broader international audience, reaffirming the universal power of cinema to connect and communicate across cultures.

Final Verdict for Pecoross' Mother and Her Days

Despite its limited international recognition, Pecoross' Mother and Her Days deserves a wider global audience. Its universal themes of love, memory, and the human condition hold a mirror to societies around the world, offering lessons in empathy and understanding.

It's a reminder that cinema has no borders, and stories well-told can touch hearts and change minds, irrespective of cultural or geographical differences. As such, Pecoross' Mother and Her Days remind us of our shared humanity.

Comic timing is a key component, as it effectively defuses serious topic matter to make it both palatable and entertaining. Add beautiful settings, excellent cinematography, top-notch acting, and a compelling soundtrack to the blend, and you’ve got the best Japanese film of 2013.


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