Adapted from Japanese author Yasushi Inoue's '60s-set autobiographical novels about his relationship with his aging mom, "Chronicle of My Mother" reps a thoughtful, oddly upbeat examination of the problems of elder care.

Adapted from Japanese author Yasushi Inoue’s ’60s-set autobiographical novels about his relationship with his aging mom, “Chronicle of My Mother” reps a thoughtful, oddly upbeat examination of the problems of elder care. Though faithful to his source, scribe-helmer Masato Hamada never formulates a cinematic equivalent for Inoue’s first-person voice, and facilely splits the point of view between the writer/protagonist and his youngest daughter, dissipating the impact of the hero’s conflicted emotions. Grand jury prizewinner in Montreal, pic takes few risks, but its strong cast and non-schmaltzy consideration of nostalgia-tinged family values could spell niche box office success domestically and arthouse runs abroad.

Successful writer Kosaku Igami (“Babel”) heads a family composed almost exclusively of women. Taking his work very seriously, he conscripts his daughters into assembling his editions, showing little sympathy for the photographic aspirations of youngest daughter Kotoko (Aoi Miyazaki).

Kosaku harbors deep resentment toward his mother (Kiki Kilin) for leaving him behind when she emigrated to Taiwan after the war: This resentment has colored his life and fostered his art, also occasioning primal flashbacks to the moment of his abandonment.

Kosaku’s reminiscences mirror his inner journey, while daughter Kotoko, clandestinely keeping tabs on her dad’s difficulties, functions as the hidden observer of his feelings.

The death of Kosaku’s father casts responsibility for his mother on the family, her outspoken criticism and bouts of senility driving Kosaku’s sisters crazy. Yet as her dementia worsens, the manifestations of the disease grow distinctly more fanciful; family annoyance transforms into amusement and the film’s period stateliness into gentle comedy. At the same time, the old lady’s wandering spells reveal the true reasons for her long-ago choice, changing Kosaku’s vision of her and bringing the entire brood closer around her care.

Helmer Harada has spoken of his recent rediscovery of Yasujiro Ozu, and “Chronicle” consciously channels the maestro’s mature work like “Late Autumn,” “Early Spring,” etc. Inoue’s original narrative was fortuitously divvied up into four seasonal parts, replicated here, as autumnal splendor is followed by a snow-covered tableaux. But Ozu’s characters demonstrate a depth and organic presence that the likable cast of “Chronicle,” meticulously slotted into pre-existing roles, simply lacks. The intergenerational tears in the social fabric in Ozu’s films posed serious threats, with tranquility a gift hard won; here serenity springs from a literature-inspired social complacency masquerading as life lessons learned.

Chronicle of My Mother

Japan

Production

A Shochiku release of a Chronicle of My Mother Film Partners production. International sales: Shochiku (Tokyo). Produced by Yoshitaka Ishizuka. Directed, written by Masato Harada, based on the novel by Yasushi Inoue.

Crew

Camera (color), Akiko Ashizawa; editor, Eugene Harada; music, Harumi Fuki; production designer, Hidemitsu Yamazaki; set decorators, Atsushi Sahara, Masahiro Katagishi; costume designer, Masae Miyamoto; sound (Dolby Digital), Masahito Yano, Showa Matsumoto, Kenji Shibasaki; line producer, Shinsuke Higuchi. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Aug. 27, 2011. Running time: 119 MIN.

With

Koji Yakusho, Aoi Miyazaki, Kiki Kilin.

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