Some cultures deal with suicide better than others. Japan has a relatively high suicide rate compared to other developed countries, but perhaps because of its long tradition of suicide, the Japanese are relatively tolerant towards it. One would think, then, that some Japanese filmmaker would have already explored how suicide impacts families the way ORDINARY PEOPLE did way back in 1980. (If there is such a film in Japan, please let me know!) Instead, the bulk of the Japanese films that deal with the subject have been in the horror genre, perhaps the most famous of them being SUICIDE CLUB (自殺サークル) from 2001. In his feature debut, writer-director Katsumi Nojiri (野尻克己) has decided to go against the norm and tackle the family angle but, rather than playing it straight, Noriji mines the subject for a few laughs. To this gaijin‘s sensibilities, LYING TO MOM sometimes works but mostly it doesn’t.
Koichi Suzuki (Ryo Kase/加瀬亮, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA) is a 30-something hikikomori, hiding from the world in his cramped bedroom in his parents’ home. One clear winter morning, he commits suicide there, leaving his doting mother Yuko (Hideko Hara/原日出子, SHALL WE DANCE?) to find his body. She is so shocked, though, she has a stroke, faints and loses her memory. When she wakes up 49 days later, her daughter, Fumi (Mai Kiryu/木竜麻生) tells her that while she was in a coma, Koichi stopped being a recluse and went off to Argentina to work for Yuko’s brother Hiroshi (Nao Omori/大森南朋). Grateful that Yuko is alive and happy, her husband Yukio (Ittoku Kishibe/岸部一徳, SAKURA GUARDIAN IN THE NORTH) and his highly opinionated sister Kimiko (Kayoko Kishimoto/岸本加世子), agree to go along with the ruse but the family members quickly realise that they have to hatch more elaborate schemes to keep the truth hidden from Yuko. Predictably, their house of lies eventually crumbles.
I’ll give Nojiri props for going where few, if any, Japanese filmmakers have gone before but his script needed a lot more work for me to be able to call LYING TO MOM a success. There is the germ of a good story here, though it might end up looking like a cross between GOOD BYE LENIN! and WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, but that’s not what Nojiri has given audiences. A few subplots about how Fumi and Yukio dealt with Koichi’s depression both before and after he died seem like they’ve been crowbarred in for dramatic effect. Unfortunately, neither is explored as fully as they should have been. That being said, the film runs an incredibly long 134 minutes so maybe it’s a blessing that he didn’t explore these plotlines further. Just when you think the film has come to a logical conclusion, Nojiri tacks on another ending… and this happens a few times.
With any luck, someone in Japan will pick up the baton and come up with a good comedy-drama about suicide. LYING TO MOM isn’t it.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, July 19th at 8:30 am HK time!
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