PECOROSS' MOTHER AND HER DAYS (2013)
Updated: Apr 11
A modern film classic in Japan - An overlooked gem abroad!
Director: Azuma Morisaki
Cast: Ryô Iwamatsu, Mitsuko Baishô, Kiwako Harada, Kensuke Owada, Ryô Kase
Related films: Departures, Tokyo Sonata, Her Love Boils Bathwater
Pecoross’ Mother and her Days is an epic family saga disguised as a tragicomic drama. The opening throws us into the middle of the story, which perfectly underlines the nonlinear nature of the narrative. From there on the story unfolds like the proverbial peeling of an onion, or in this case a pecoross (small onion).
It didn’t take director Azuma Morisaki more than a year to successfully adapt the manga about Pecoross to screen. The blend of influences from different genres and several eras made for a powerful impact that hit home among critics and audiences alike. Kinema Junpô (Japans most prestigious film magazine) liked it so much that they named it «Best Japanese Film of 2013».
The balance between tragedy and comedy is done with great confidence. Coupled with skipping back and forth in time it makes for an effective mix of period drama and modern-day dramedy. As such, a story spanning from the WWII era till present time is laid down before us and connected like pieces of a puzzle. Along the way the story ads depth by touching upon many social issues.
Pecoross 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. In his spare time Pecoross is a manga artist and a musician. Lately though, his mother has become more and more of a struggle to care for, as her dementia is getting increasingly serious.
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 losing 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. She could no longer be trusted to take care of herself, but at the same time, having to adjust to a completely 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 side he wants more than anything to be free from parental shackles. On the other he realizes that the bond between the two is one that he might not want to break. Soon he will have no choice however, as the mother is slipping further away every day.
Between the lines
On paper Pecoross’ Mother and her Days seems to gape over too many topics and storylines for a two-hour film. Somehow it all falls into place though, like the layers of a painting in process, slowly revealing the vision from the artist’s inner eye.
The story is focused on personal tragedy, in light of aftereffects caused by a national tragedy. As mentioned there are an array of social commentaries to be found between the lines. Some central issues are the aging population in Japan, the generational family system, the social stigma of unemployment, as well as male pattern baldness.
Holding it all together is a heartfelt tale of a family’s struggle to survive. First and foremost, it concerns personal relationships and hard choices. The story of Pecoross has many layers, and depth beyond the norm of its genre, but at the forefront is a relatable story about decisions that most people have to face at one time or another in their lifetime.
Pecoross’ Mother and her Days is universally approachable for audiences of all kinds. Comic timing is a key component, as it effectively defuses serious topic matter to make it both palatable and entertaining. Add beautiful settings, wonderful cinematography, top notch acting and an effective soundtrack to the blend, and you’ve got the best Japanese film of 2013.
As far as JCA know there are no physical editions of this film available outside of Japan. Fortunately, it has found its way to Amazon Prime, where it can be enjoyed for free with a 30-day trial membership.