Oscars: Japan Selects Naomi Kawase's 'True Mothers' for International Feature Category

Courtesy of TIFF

Although a European festival regular, she will be representing Japan at the Oscars for the first time.

Japan has picked Naomi Kawase's delicate family drama True Mothers to represent the country in the 2021 Oscar race in the international feature category.

The decision was announced Friday by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan.

Based on a novel by mystery writer Mizuki Tsujimura, True Mothers tells the story of a middle-class Japanese couple who turn to an adoption agency for a baby after learning they can't conceive. Their incipient happiness then gets turned upside-down when their son’s biological mother shows up and demands him back.

The Hollywood Reporter's reviewer described the film as "a moving dramatization of maternal feelings," saying that it "could gather new fans for the Japanese director."

True Mothers film was selected by the Cannes Film Festival — where Kawase first came to international prominence in 1997, winning the Camera D'Or prize for Suzaku — before the 2020 edition of the French event was forced to cancel in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The film instead premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September before screening at San Sebastian.

Although a European festival regular, Kawase will be representing Japan at the Oscars for the first time. Her selection marks only the third time in 67 submissions that Japan has chosen a film directed by a woman, following Yong-hi Yang's Our Homeland in 2013 and Mipo O with The Light Only Shines There in 2015.

Japan has had 12 submissions nominated in the best international feature film category, most recently Hirokazu Kore-eta's Cannes Palme D'or winner Shoplifters in 2019. Yōjirō Takita’s Departures (2009) is the only Japanese feature to win the category though.

Back in the 1950s, before the best international feature category's existence, the Academy occasionally handed out honorary Oscars for esteemed foreign language films that were released in the United States. During this era, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon was the first to win on behalf of Japan in 1951. Teinosuke Kinugasa's Gate of Hell of followed with an honorary win in 1954, followed by Hiroshi Inagaki for Samurai, The Legend of Musashi in 1955.