Mother: Eps 1-3
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: