Words by Yoshito Seino

The Japanese documentary film scene tackles a wide range of genres and stories which provide a revealing background to unique elements of Japanese society and Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is the best showcase of these films for international audiences. From the Flash Back Memories by Tetsuaki Matsue, winner of the best audience award at the 25th TIFF, and the 2012 film GFP Bunny directed by Yutaka Tsuchiya are just two examples that both demonstrate aspects of how Japanese documentarians are challenging traditional notions of what a documentary film is by being innovative in their use of cutting-edge technology and music. I bet you that these elements that make the films stand out ensure that they take a unique position around the globe and help people from other cultures gain an understanding about what is happening in Japan.

This year’s TIFF puts the focus on pure style – Walking with My Mother tells the story of a 70-year-old woman named Sachie Sakaguchi who lives a melancholy life due to the death of her daughter and husband. The director is Katsumi Sakaguchi, her son, and he captures her life over four years.

Sachie, the titular mother, moved to Tokyo from her rural hometown Tanageshima (south of Kyushu) in order to get work. Soon after her arrival she got married but her life was beset by harsh events. Through a shocking situation her daughter passed away when Sachie was in her late forties and her husband was admitted to hospital without voice. Katsumi follows his mother with a handheld camera as the director while he encourages her on in life as her son; “Why do you go out at midnight?” Katsumi asks his mother –“It is because I do not want to be die,” she replies. Soon after, his mother arrives in a park after walking there, she begins poking the ground with a stick, a feeling that she is intensely alone building. The sound is not just sound; rather it is designed to emphasis the realistic and sad nature of the scene. However Katsumi speaks loudly, defiantly, “You will not die because you can walk too much.”

Walking with My Mother is not just the story of Sakaguchi’s family but a portrait of family life in general. The universal theme asks essential questions about how we prepare for illness. It is not easy but life goes on; Katsumi as both son and director is trying to document the good remedies for his mother’s problems as well as happier times.

When she moves back to hometown, her natural smile comes backs; she gets involved in family life again. What is the meaning of family, life and a person’s hometown? Walking with My Mother is providing the clear answer for the future.

Image provide by Tokyo Film Festival.