BERLIN (Reuters) - A moving Japanese film based on a true story shows how a selfless mother’s love for her children helped the family survive tragedy and danger brought on by the conflict with China and soon after it, World War Two.
Veteran director Yoji Yamada, best known in the West for his samurai trilogy starting with “The Twilight Samuria,” based his new film “Kabei - Our Mother” on the memoirs of Teruyo Nogami.
The film screened in the main competition at the Berlin Film Festival on Wednesday.
“Kabei” is set in the outskirts of Tokyo where Kayo Nogami, known as Kabei by her family, lives a frugal but happy life with husband Shigeru and two daughters, Hatsuko and Terumi.
Without warning Shigeru is detained by police under the Peace Preservation Law under which to speak out against war was considered a crime against the state.
Throughout the movie, set mainly in Kabei’s small but meticulously kept home, the military buildup and society’s growing intolerance to dissent is felt, while key moments in history like Pearl Harbor are relayed through radio broadcasts.
Pressured by the authorities to recant, the prisoner of conscience refuses to back down, leaving the serene Kabei, played by Sayuri Yoshinaga, to fend for herself.
Family and friends rally around, but in the end Kabei must bear the burden of raising the family alone at the same time as living with the loss of some of the people she loves most.
For 76-year-old Yamada, the story still resonates today.
“It was the fascist era in Tokyo at that time,” he told a news conference. “The lives of ordinary people in Tokyo at that time really did fascinate me,” he added through a translator.
“What women feel when their husbands and sons are dragged off to war, the courage they need to bring up their children — that is what I wanted to show in this film.”
Yamada urged Japan not to forget its past.
“The time portrayed is obviously over 60 years ago and Japan was a very militaristic state at the time. In Japan we’ve been made either to forget that period or gloss it over. But when you forget it you are more likely to repeat history.
“If you look at the current situation in the world we really do have to learn more about history.”
When asked why he thought his film was chosen by Berlin, he added: “Japan and Germany in fact have a shared piece of history to look back on, this war period in the 1940s.”
Nogami said she had been too young to understand the gravity of what was going on around her during the tumultuous years leading up to and during Japan’s involvement in World War Two.
“I was that child. I was a well-behaved little girl and at that time I was just too young and I had no idea of the dangers of the time and my mother tried to protect me from that.
“When I think about it now I realize it must have been very difficult for my father, and I hope he forgives me now for the stance I took.”
Editing by Keith Weir; To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog "Fan Fare" online at blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/