The year is 1940, and the Nogami clan—a respected professor (Bando), his affectionate wife, Kayo (Yoshinaga), and their two young daughters—sits down to enjoy a peaceful dinner together. It’s the last time we’ll see such an idyllic scene in Yôji Yamada’s period piece: Dad is about to be arrested for allegedly committing shisohan (thought crimes). Mom and the kids aren’t totally on their own, since they’re aided by a shy former student (Asano) of the teacher. Yet the longer the father remains in custody, the more the family’s stability begins to deteriorate. Meanwhile, outside their crumbling household, Japan slips into quasifascist rule and starts beating the drums for war.
Is there an import tax that requires foreign filmmakers to submit an annual quota of movies dealing with their nation’s low points? (Or perhaps it’s just the extremely piss-poor state of foreign-film distribution that explains why these tepid looks back in anger are all we see now.) Regardless, Yamada’s attempt to make a humanistic parable from a historical dark period merely trivializes the era’s tragedies. Sayuri Yoshinaga does give her sacrificial mother a Stella Dallas level of sainthood, but the film’s comparisons of one woman’s suffering to one nation’s social descent aren’t well drawn enough to escape its own melodramatic pitfalls.