Riceboy Sleeps and Motherhood Find New Complexity in Maternal Bonds – Stir
The bonds that untie
Japanese cinema Maternity, which has its world premiere at VIFF, takes a radically different but equally complex look at maternal instincts and how they can be shaped by generational trauma. Where Shim’s film often embraces you like a warm blanket, Ryuichi Hiroki’s meticulously crafted domestic story builds a world of beautiful cold surfaces that contrast with the characters’ troubled psychological tensions.
Based on a Japanese novel, Ryuichi Hiroki’s film tells the story in an unconventional way, re-enacting certain events from the different perspectives of a mother, Hanae (Mao Daichi), and her daughter, Rumiko (Erika Toda).
“The daughter has some idea of her truth, and the mother has her ideas of her truth as well, so the audience can decide that both can be true, or only one is true,” Hiroki hints through the through a translator. The acclaimed director, who has already selected six feature films for VIFF, speaks to Stir via Zoom from Tokyo before arriving here for his film’s debut.
The filmmaker says he was first drawn to the girl’s story and how she longs to be loved by a mother who finds herself strangely unable to show affection for her child, in part to because of his enduring bond with his own, caring mother. It’s almost as if she’s unable to sever the bond with her own parent or transfer that same love to her daughter – and a tragic event on the night of a typhoon completely severs her relationship with her child.
Their scenes together have distance and distance – requiring extreme nuance and restraint, from both the director and the actors who must make their characters likable at the same time.
“I didn’t really direct them specifically; I told them to act naturally in this very different relationship”, explains the director, then underlines: “If you exaggerate this particular relationship, it can become horror. But I wanted it to look totally normal.
There’s another very different mother figure in the film – an almost monstrous stepmother who treats hardworking Hanae as little more than a servant in the family compound. Ironically, however, the old hatchet shows Rumiko more affection than her own mother, further complicating the girl’s rocky relationship with Hanae.
It’s a complex psychological portrait, set amidst houses that the VIFF program perfectly describes as “orderly and brittle beauty” – as tough yet fragile as Mao Daichi’s masterful portrayal of Hanae herself.
“It was designed to be the home that the daughter might dream of as the perfect home, or the mother might want to create as that beautiful home,” Hiroki explains.
This perfection contradicts or tries to compensate for the imperfections of the family that lives there.