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Kinuyo Tanaka is towering as an indomitable matriarch who tries to steer her family through postwar poverty, struggle and tragedy in this masterpiece by the great Mikio Naruse.
In this beloved classic, which venerable film historian Tadao Sato brackets with Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu and Kurosawa's Ikiru as the beginning of "the second golden age of Japanese cinema," Kinuyo Tanaka is daunting as the enterprising matriarch of a family struggling to survive amid the poverty and devastation following the war. Though the film begins in a chirpy and almost comic mode, Naruse's tragic sense inexorably, inevitably takes hold. The parents' dream to reopen their once prosperous laundry comes true, but is accompanied by death, loss, and untenable sacrifice; the pragmatic mother is finally faced with a choice between keeping her (diminished, fragmented) family intact or ensuring that one of her children has opportunities. Naruse transforms the mawkish genre of "mother" movies (known as haha-mono) so popular in Japan into something astringent and complex, dense with social observation; the film's poignancy is hard-earned and authentic. "One of Naruse's best films" (Donald Richie and Joseph L. Anderson).