Bottom Line: A strong emotional undertow runs through this Japanese tale of a daughter seeking out the father she never met.

2007 Shanghai International Film Festival

SHANGHAI -- "Tokyo Tower: Mom, Me & Sometimes Dad" directed by Joji Matsuoka, the Japanese mother/son weepie that packed theaters and boosted tissue sales, finds a less tearful counterpart in "Bizan," directed by Isshin Inudou, a mother/daughter drama, also released domestically in May to coincide with Mother's Day. While the former panders both to maternal fantasies of the prodigal-son-made-good and male audiences with a mother complex, the latter handles subtle female emotions with elegant poise and heart-breaking tenderness.

While "Tokyo Tower" may attract more worldwide attention through plaudits in Japan and male lead Odagiri Joe's international fame, "Bizan" appeals more narrowly to a more mature, particularly female audience, especially in Asian countries with high emphasis on family values. Captured by fluid, top-notch camerawork, the spectacle of Awa odori, Japan's biggest traditional festival where thousands clad in traditional costumes and props take to the streets in a heart-pounding dance, may attract a specific audience interested in Japanese folk culture.

Sakiko (Nanako Matsushima), who works for a travel corporation in Tokyo, is recalled to her hometown Tokushima, when her mother, Tatsuko (Nobuko Miyamoto), is suddenly hospitalized. Old tensions resurface, then she receives a double shock. Not only does she learn that Tatsuko has only a few months to live, she discovers that her father, whom she has never met and thought to be long dead, is alive.

As she embarks on a trip to find him, his old love letters become her guide in retracing footsteps of her parents' romantic rendezvous. At the annual Awa odori summer dance festival, Sakiko fulfills her mother's last wish.

In tone and spirit, "Bizan" recalls another classic Asian mother/daughter drama, "Song of the Exile" (1990) by Ann Hui. Both are about women who become cultural or social exiles by uprooting themselves to settle in the hometown of their lost loves. Both deal with the rift between two generations, and their reconciliation through unlocking family secrets and understanding, literally, where the mother comes from.

However, while Hui does not go beyond genre conventions of making the protagonists speak daggers to each other, Inudou (who co-wrote the script with Yukiko Yamamuro from a novel by Masashi Sada) exercises restraint where emotional outpour is expected. Tatsuko diffuses tension and evades unwanted questions with beautifully enunciated lines from her beloved bunraku (puppet) plays. When Sakiko meets her father, they avert their eyes and exchange niceties with agonizing formality.

Like other strong, elderly characters that people Inudo Isshin films, such as "Across a Gold Prairie," "Shinibana" and "La Maison de Himiko," Tatsuko is played with commanding power by Miyamoto. Impeccably coiffed and ramrod straight in her kimono, she conveys a full register of emotions even with a face caked in an inch of white powder. Recently returning to the big screen after several years' absence, Matsushima ("Ring," "Murder of the Inugami Clan") also turns in a natural and nuanced performance.

Toho/Bizan Seisaku Iinkai
Director: Isshin Inudo
Writers: Isshin Inudo, Yukiko Yamamuro
Based on the novel by: Masashi Sada
Producer: Endo Manabu
Director of photography: Takahiro Tsutai
Production designer: Yukiharu Seshimo
Music: Michiru Oshima
Editor: Soichi Ueno
Sakiko: Nanako Matsushima
Tatsuko: Nobuko Miyamoto
Daisuke: Takao Osawa
Running time -- 120 minutes
No MPAA rating