Mother: Eps 1-3

Drama ReviewsJapanese Dramas

If any of you have been following my reviews for Woman, I’m sure you know that I was absolutely obsessed and taken by that jdrama.  It was absolutely beautiful and after it ended, I felt a void in my drama-watching.  I couldn’t watch some crappy or mediocre drama after watching Woman..because it really made me crave another heavy drama with substance. Well, I decided to take a stab at watching a previous Sakamoto Yuji jdrama, Mother.  According to the hardcore fans of Mother, it is ‘THE’ jdrama that is even better than Woman.  Hmm we shall see!

So, one thing I want to say first is..part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to finally start watching Mother is that I’ve read its synopsis many times before and every time I read it, it just sounded “meh” to me.  The synopsis says it’s about a woman who becomes an abused child’s substitute mother and the two of them go on a journey in which they ‘experience many events’.  Ummmm…….what?  The synopsis does not sound interesting AT ALL.  Well actually the story of Mother is much more interesting than the synopsis makes it out to be.  There are some elements of mystery, going off the grid, dark secrets and hidden identities, all along with the other aspects of family, motherhood, and forgiveness.


The opening scene is quite gripping and surreal feeling, but after that, everything generally feels very slowly paced and drawn out.  In comparison to the summer jdrama Woman, Mother has a much colder tone and reminds me of winter.  (probably also because this was aired during the winter season!)  This cold feeling also relates to the personality of the heroine–the apathetic Suzuhara Nao, who is the ‘main mother’ in the story.  We see Nao just as she is–a cold person, seemingly indifferent to the people around her and also a hater of kids.  She seems to go through life without much purpose or passion and has very few attachments..whether it be romantic or family-related.  For sure, Nao is not the kind of heroine that has a rosy view of the world and believes in a happily ever after.  Instead she is unmarried, lives alone, and has no intention of becoming a mother.  I know that that sounds very cliched due to the overabundance of heroines who are so called ‘happily single but end up falling in love anyways’ or ‘unmarried, lonely, and hoping for a marriage partner’…but Nao is not bemoaning her loneliness, wishing on the stars that she will find a lover, or flaunting her confidence as a single independent woman.  Nao is the kind of person who prefers solitude and being alone, although she does not always let on when she gets lonely.

Anyways, I think Nao is quite the intriguing character because she is not the kind of character that you instantly like, nor is she the kind of character that has every thought written on her sleeve.  Nao takes a while to warm up to and every episode feels like we get to know her a bit better as she begins to reveal her deeper secrets.


Nao works at an elementary school despite her hatred of kids.  Although she makes it clear she doesn’t want anything to do with her students, she accidentally gains the admiration of one of her students, Rena (Ashida Mina).  This is no surprise since the synopsis spoils it already, but Rena is being abused at home.  :'(  Ashida Mina is your usual cutesy kid actress and Rena is the usual smart cookie…but there are hints that her happiness is actually quite forced because she uses her smile as her survival mechanism.

There is some mystery in ep1 about who exactly is abusing Rena–is it her mom Hitomi (Ono Machiko) or her mom’s shady boyfriend? (Ayano Go!!! Omg I didn’t know that Ayano Go & Ono Machiko had already collaborated before Saikou no Rikon!)  Well the mystery isn’t dragged out too long because we later find out that it is actually Hitomi who is abusing Rena.  I’m still a bit confused though because it’s not clear if Hitomi’s boyfriend is also abusing Rena or not.  Also we have yet to discover why Hitomi is abusing Rena.  Hopefully we will get to see more of Hitomi’s backstory.  And I want to know why Ayano Go’s character is so suspicious!

So, after Nao realizes that nothing is being done about Rena’s abuse, she decides to take things into her own hands–she’ll fake Rena’s death and become Rena’s adopted mom.  O________O  SAY WHAT? Oi, I knew they were going to become adopted mother/daughter but I didn’t know they would be faking a death, faking identities, kidnapping, and running away from the authorities! O_O Also it is even more of a shocker because we find out Nao’s motivations for doing all of this, she too was abandoned by her mother and was adopted by another family later on.  OHHHHHH.  Nao is pretty much seeing her former self in Rena which is why she cannot just leave Rena behind.


Anyways, much of episodes 2-3 are about how Nao and Rena (who is renamed to “Tsugumi”) run away and restart their lives as mother and daughter.  There is a big emphasis on how Rena still loves her biological mom even though she is abusive so it feels a bit sudden when Rena decides to run away. I think the whole impetus for her decision though, is that she realizes that her mom basically left her out to die in the cold.  She knew she was unwanted and unloved, so she decided to finally get out with Nao’s help.  There is this one really sad scene in which Rena asks Nao if she can go to a special mailbox where mothers can leave their babies.  (so, instead of abandoning them on the street, the babies are taken care of by some charity or something.  This is actually a real thing and I will talk more about it later.)  That is the moment where I realized, ‘omg, Rena wants to go to this mailbox so that she can be left there too.’ :(((

The other main part of eps2-3 is, of course, all about family and what it means to be a mother.  Not gonna talk a lot about this part of the story right now, but Nao is caught in between her two identities, if you will.  She has the identity of an orphan, abandoned by her biological mother, Hana (played by Tanaka Yuko!!).  She also has the identity of an adopted child who is sorta the black sheep of the family.  Well, Nao’s mom has actually reentered her life by helping her look after Tsugumi/Rena but Nao just doesn’t know it! O:

There are two main moments with Hana that really struck me.  One is when the doctor asks her if she has anything to live for.  Hana can’t answer her..but we all know that the real answer is “no”.  Only when Hana begins to see Nao and Tsugumi does she finally find something worth living on for.  Another sad moment is when Hana asks Nao if she would ever want to see her biological mom again.  Nao replies ‘no.’  Afterwards Hana goes into the bathroom and sobs over the sink as she tries to muffle her cries.  :'(((  Such a heavy moment.


I admit, I started watching Mother out of my void left by Woman.  I know, despite their similar background (same writer, also both about mothers and family, and also Tanaka Yuko in both of them!) they are two totally different dramas with different feels to both of them.  So I tried REALLY hard not to compare Mother to Woman but…it’s inevitable.  It happened.

I will only mention a few differences in my experience watching Mother vs. Woman.  First of all, episode 1 of Mother was not an instant “OMG I LOVE THIS DRAMA” episode.  It has taken me much longer to really get into this drama, whereas I was an instant fan of Woman from day 1.  Another thing is that I don’t think Ashida Mina can quite compare to Suzuki Rio in terms of acting chops.  Ashida Mina is cute and all, and she tugs at all of our heartstrings but…..Suzuki Rio is absolutely amazing.  Also, I feel like Nao’s character in Mother is much more complex and intriguing than Koharu’s character in Woman.  In Woman, I could always root for Koharu and be on her side.  With Nao though, I feel like I still haven’t seen her true self and I’m still..undecided when it comes to how I feel about her.  The thing I like about Nao’s character is that she has made difficult decisions that cannot be easily defined as right or wrong.

Also, about the mailbox where mothers can leave their babies.  I’m not sure if this exists in Japan, but this is actually  real thing in South Korea.  A pastor has a “baby box” where mothers abandon their children rather than leaving them out on the streets.  He then raises these children in his orphanage.  There is a whole documentary about it called “The Drop Box”.   Preview linked below:


I'm heisui, an Asian drama blogger and the creator of My Drama Tea. I love stories and writing, so I watch dramas and blog. I especially have a penchant for Japanese and Chinese dramas, and those hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. Oh, and I'm Legend of Zhen Huan-obsessed!
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  • Omo! Mother! Amazing drama.
    I actually place it higher than Woman, personally, I think qualitatively Mother had a more epic scope to play on with more darker, murkier layers of intrigue.
    Yasuko-san as Nao just blew my mind, such a complex character, such a brilliant performance by the actress.
    The fact that you find her character’s motives rather dubious and that she is generally a strange, recluse with issues… all that is deliberate. You’ll get your answers, painstakingly – piece by piece, and the big blow right at the very end, when you’ll finally get the see the big picture laid out in front of you. Context is everything.
    Ashida Mana was VERY good here. Suzuki Rio is talented (and I MUCH prefer her!) too but since she hasn’t had a chance to handle heavyweight fare like Mana-chan did here, we can’t really compare the two.

    I can’t wait till you watch more of it, and we’ll dissect stuff. <333

    • Yup it’s about time that I finally start Mother! Yeah Nao is much more interesting than Koharu. For now, maybe she is not as ‘inspiring’ but I find her to be very mysterious. I want to see how her past influenced the way she is now. And of course I’m curious about what happened between her and her adopted mom. You are making me excited for the big reveal at the end!!! 😀

      I think that so far, Ashida Mina really shone the most in the scene when she lied to the reporter about Nao being her mom and not knowing who Hitomi is. I loved her acting there. But aside from that, she just strikes me as super cute.

  • I’m glad that you are reviewing this drama. I will definitely be reading the progress of the episodes! I am curious myself and I have the same feeling when Woman ended – though I suspended my watching the last few episodes, while you kept at it. Still the void is there and it’s hard to fill…

    Thanks for the review! 🙂

    • Heheh since I’m still waiting for the new jdrama season to start up, I figured I should check out some old jdramas. Also of course, I have that void that Woman left behind. >_<" Mother is off to a promising start! I have high expectations for the rest of the drama. 😀

      • I felt that the pacing is a bit slow for me, and yes I have the same feeling that I might need more than 2 episodes before I am fully convinced that I will continue with the show…. But the casting is brilliant, as you noticed. I will watch more. Thanks for the review… it gave me the necessary push to see it, though I planned on seeing this show weeks before… 🙂

  • oooh yay! your finally reviewing mother. i hope you will enjoy it. supah from up above already mentioned the same thoughts i have about this show. one reasaon why i say ashida mana is great in this show is that she was only 6 years old at the time! amazing acting for such an age plus she is one of the main characters and her relationship to matsuyuki is central to the show compared to suzuki rio in woman. the neat thing about this show is that it focuses on so many different types of mothers and the love and relationships they have with their child. thanks for reviewing it!

    • Hopefully Ashida Mana’s character will grow on me more as the drama progresses. Yeah already there are so many complicated relationships just in the first few episodes! It’s hard for me to even keep track of them all!!

      -Nao & Tsugumi
      -Nao & her biological mom Hana
      -Nao & her adopted mom
      -Nao’s adopted mom’s relationship with her younger sisters
      -Tsugumi & her biological mom Hitomi
      -Nao & her foster care mom

      SO MANY!!!!

  • I feel like have heard people telling me about this drama, and warning me… because it gets dark or something.

    I still haven’t watched Woman so I will tackle that first, though I wonder when! With these good kind of dramas, sometimes I need the right moment to watch them because I want to give them the time they deserve, rather than watch them in a rush (White Christmas is one of those that haven’t watched yet either).

    • The tone of Mother is much darker than Woman. O_O I will not be surprised if it gets even darker as the drama progresses. Woman is the kind of drama that can lift your spirits more. Just watch it when the time is right! 😀

  • interested to hear your thoughts on the rest of the drama. Of course, of all of Sakamoto Yuji’s scripts, nothing can really compare to Soredemo Ikite Yuku, but Mother probably rates second after that. I recall it did fairly well in the ratings when it was first aired on NTV in 2010.

  • So glad to find a blog focusing on J-drama.

    I am so glad you are writing about Mother. By turning people on to this drama you are giving them a true gift, if they can deal with stories that are in no way related to fantasy and fairy tales. I like fairy tales and happy endings, but if you are going offer something less then light entertainment, then what you offer needs to be outstanding.

    I think Mother is amazing but demanding of its viewers.

    I saw Mother in 2010 when it was first available. I’ve wanted to re-watch it since then but I’ve been afraid. The emotional investment this series demands is epic. It’s only 11 episode long, but the impact feels as if it were 50 episode of evocative, truthful, resonant human drama. The characters and their struggles feel as real as those of a friend. Ashida Mana is an amazing actor. Her ability must be annoying to older actors who have trained for years and will never ever be able to reach her level of humanity in front of a camera. Actually I was missing that drama, but was still too scared to re-watch when I searched and found your review.

    I watched Woman earlier this year and also found it moving. Like Mother it is grounded in the ordinary struggle of real people. Like Mother, Woman’s cast is excellent. Both focus on strong determined female character who carry on without complaining or sharing everything that goes on inside their heads. Woman was a satisfying watch but, to my mind, not on the level of Mother. But that’s the way things are. Often the first boy/girl you kiss will have a special place in your heart forever.

    • Hi Yumi! Heh I fear that I cannot really do the drama adequate justice through my reviews. >_< My opinion of Ashida Mina has improved in the later episodes of Mother. For me, currently I like Woman more than Mother, it might be because I saw Woman before Mother heh.

    • OMG I know exactly how Yumi felt 4 years ago. It’s been a few days since I watched the finale & still I have to be careful not to replay certain scenes in my head otherwise I’d cry again & probably worry the others on the bus.

      Like Yumi, I was genuinely scared to start each new episode. Since, essentially, the viewer masochistically assumes the position in front of the screen and nervously offers up their bundle of heart-strings for a relentless and violent tugging.

      Why keep persisting like a moth to a flame? It’s a very engaging story with many beautiful moments. I was initially impressed with the actors’ skill, particularly Ashida Mana. Then, I got so sucked into the story that I wasn’t even thinking analytically anymore. I felt for the characters so much that I had to keep reminding myself that it’s just a show. The emotional investment is, as Yumi wrote, epic. I had no idea a story could be that powerful.

      Now it’s over and it’s like I was rudely awoken from an amazing dream & I don’t wanna wake up just yet! This show has made me think about life in the bigger picture, and my own relationships with my children and my mother. I’ve been looking into charities that help orphans. This show may well end up changing my life, and the life of others a little, too.

      I’m looking around but everyone has already seen & discussed it years ago 🙁 So, stuff it, I’m replying to a four year old post by someone who understands perfectly what I went through. Writing this has mostly been for me anyway 🙂

  • Just finishing watching Mother, and don’t want to say good-bye to it. So I’m enjoying reading your review. Though you said Mother didn’t grab you right from the start, it sure did me. I mean, literally from the very first SECOND of the first episode, there is intense drama. That first scene is riveting. And then when it dawns on us what was going on in that first scene…wow. Great storytelling.

  • I just finished Woman yesterday and without even realizing they were by the same screenwriter, “Mother” came up in a search and I just finished Episode 3. Liking it, and see its potential, but so far feel the same as you did at this point-I suspect I will end up loving most of it though. I watch SK dramas since I started watching Asian dramas a couple years ago and recently discovered Japanese dramas-really up my alley! Given that my alley is much older and much more serious in nature, love deep characterization and relationships-don’t like cute innocence except in children. I would love to know, if you see this, other dramas, even focusing on a male/female relationship/s or other family slice of life types that you recommend. Thank you! AND- where is the best place to find some of the older ones subbed? I can’t find so many…

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