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Kabei: Our Mother (DVD Review)

10 Aug, 2009 By: Isabella Hecht


Prebook 8/11/09; Street 9/8/09
Box Office $0.01 million
$27.99 DVD
Not rated.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

Kabei is the slow, sweet story of a woman trying to keep her family together prior to and during the second world war. The film is adapted from the memoir by Teruyo Nogami, who recalls her mother’s strength after her father was arrested in the middle of the night for “thought crimes.”

Teruyo was 9 years old when her father was arrested, and while she narrates the film, it is her mother who is the heroine.

Kayo, or Kabei, as they called her, is left to support her two young girls while she waits endlessly for her husband to return. With the help of her sister-in-law and a bumbling student of her husband’s (arthouse fans will recognize Tadanobu Asano), Kabei stays strong, inspiring courage in those around her as her husband still does not return, and the country goes to war.

One cannot help but feel sorry for this poor woman, forced to be the strong one because no one else can do it. She hardly ever breaks down, but when she does, the pain is that much more heartbreaking for its rarity.

Beautifully filmed, Kabei is a fascinating foray into Japanese prewar culture, especially its unique take on gender roles in the family. At more than two hours long, the film moves along unhurriedly. It takes pleasure in its comforting scenes of family life, much in the same way that Kabei looks after her children and stray relatives.

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