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The Maternal Instinct Deconstructed: A TIFF Review of ‘True Mothers’

September 18, 2020Ben MK

What is it that defines a mother? Does the act of childbirth after carrying a baby in one's womb for nine months automatically make one a mother? Or does motherhood mean being there to nurture and love a child as they grow up? In True Mothers, director Naomi Kawase addresses that precise question, in this story of two very different women who share one very precious bond.

Satoko Kurihara (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Hikari Katakura (Aju Makita) might never have met were it not for Baby Baton, an agency specializing in plenary adoption. Unable to conceive naturally with her husband, Kiyokazu (Arata Iura), Satoko had all but given up on the idea of becoming a parent — that is, until Baby Baton introduced them to 14-year-old Hikari. A high school student whose parents forced her to hide her accidental pregnancy from her classmates, Hikari thought she had found true love when she met her baby's father, Takumi (Taketo Tanaka). But when Satoko and Kiyokazu are visited by a woman claiming to be the child's birth mother five years after adopting Hikari's baby boy, it reopens a chapter in both women's lives that they each thought they had put behind them.

A sensitive and at times heart-wrenching look at what it means to be a mother, as seen from multiple viewpoints, this adaptation of Mizuki Tsujimura's 2015 novel shows that the maternal instinct can't be faked. For although it might be easy to call someone "mom," it takes a true mother to genuinely know what's best for her child.

True Mothers screens under the Special Presentations programme at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 19 min.

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