As I said, I intended to explain the 'unexpected' ending of the series, Mother (2010), based on a strong element in the Japanese culture. As it's a long writing, I'll post it in two parts. The first part, below, is mainly to raise the question I've been thinking about recently.

So, I finished watching Mother (2010) some time ago. Despite its painful ending—goodbye scene and then no contact between Nao and Tsugumi for 13 years—I found the series positive and heart-warming, as at the beginning, there were an abused kid and a lonely traumatized woman, but at the end, we had an amazing mother and daughter. As I loved the series, I started to read some reviews. Then, I saw this one. Briefly put, the commenter holds that although he loved the first 10 episodes, the last episode makes no sense, as no mother would do what Nao did to Tsugumi. He wrote that if he is in such condition, "I won't sleep until I try all possible and even impossible ways to return her back! And only if I finally fail in struggle with Juvenal justice, I could say to her: "I did everything to return you back, daughter". And what can Nao say to Tsugumi when she becomes 20 years old?"

At first, I was resistant, trying to explain why Nao's decision was the best, but the more I thought, the more convinced I became that the commenter is totally right. It is true that the legal system prevents Nao from having contact with Tsugumi, but this is just a small part of reality. First of all, Nao is not alone. Her family supports her fully. Her mother is wealthy, so they can afford to recruit good lawyers and in the right time, appeal against the conviction. Aside from the laws, now that everyone knows that Nao saved Tsugumi from abuse and in fact death, many people sympathize with them. Even the series showed that the interrogator and the judge were sympathetic toward Nao. Also, the journalist who knows most about the case and can write about them was on their side. All this means that Nao can find many people who are ready to help her. One possibility is to find a friend ready to adopt Tsugumi, and then let the mother and daughter live together secretly. Also, as the people in the child care seem to be caring, it should not be difficult to find some sympathetic people there who help Nao and Tsugumi contact or even meet each other on a regular basis. The main thing is that it is Tsugumi who desperately tries all different ways to be with Nao, so even if all the world is against Nao, as far as Tsugumi considers her as mother, there is no way other than confining Tsugumi to cut the mother-daughter relationship. 

Let's assume that Nao tries to meet Tsugumi, but the legal system notices. What would happen? The worst case scenario is that Nao has to spend 1 year (or more) in prison, but Nao showed that as far as it's for Tsugumi, she is not afraid of anything. And in fact, in her time in prison, her only concern was Tsugumi. So, what's wrong with the risk of seeing her daughter? Also, I really wonder about what Nao told Tsugumi before their goodbye scene: "Don't call me again"? "If you call me, I won't pick up the phone"? Or what? Why did Nao have to 'abandon' Tsugumi for 13 years? 

Along these lines, many more things can be added but I think this is enough.

If the series didn't end with the meeting of Nao and young Tsugumi, I could suppose that Nao wrote that gloomy letter to Tsugumi just on an impulse. Then, I would think that sooner or later, she notices that cutting all connections with her girl is stupid or at least impossible. But that final scene's meeting suggests that they really didn't see each other for 13 years. I don't think any 'mother', especially Nao, can do this, but the question is this: Why did the writer and director of the series choose this ending? What was wrong with a more positive ending? It seems weird, since even when it's not called for, in order to attract more viewers, producers and directors prefer happy endings. But this time, it's completely the opposite.

So, I've put some thought into the questions. Now, I think the answer lies in one essential element of the Japanese culture, this is, worshipping and glorification of 'pain'. To begin, the life of Nao's mother and what she said can be our clue. At her last days, when she could have a small trip with Nao and Tsugumi, she said that for her, that one day was enough to make all her life fulfilling, despite the fact that she suffered immensely for so many years, as she couldn't live with and even talk to her beloved daughter.

 Enough for now, I'll write the second and final part soon.

Wow. First of all I kind of needed a summary of the last episode as I watched it on 2010 and didn't really remember at first but now I started to remember.

To be honest, when I watched the series I don't remember disagreeing with the end... Probably I did a little, but I can't really remember giving it much thought at the moment, it was more like a "Huh, another one of this endings" kind of feeling. 

I suppose you both are right that she could have done more and so on, but I guess there can be many reasons to explain the end.

1.  As I remember... the drama focuses on Rena's rescue and above all: Rena's and Nao's emotional journey  into becoming Mother/Daughter with strong bonds. If they were to focus on  Nao's means and ordeals in order to legally adopt Nao  or come up with any idea to keep her after the law's outcome  was against her, that would require a 2nd season or at least a SP as they can't just put all of that into one or two episodes.

Granted, they would have spared all the commotion if the law's outcome was in Nao's favor to being with, so they would not need more episodes to make a credible happy ending. BUT:

2. Not all Japanese dramas are kind, positive, heartwarming, happy and such. In fact,  I think Japan does make a good work in portraying the negative side of society and the reality of the world into their films or series and making it look very real in the sense that real life is on many cases unfair and people make terrible mistakes, thus a lot of plots or endings may seem unfair but that only shows the point of view of the writer/director and what they try to convey to the audience.   I don't think it is "glorifying the pain" either, but just being realistic.
 I think that "Mother" is one example of this. Yes, we can argue that maybe the reaction was Out Of Character, but I think that this kind of ending was exactly what the creators wanted: to give a bittersweet emphasis to the end. To let people questioning themselves. It happens a lot on Japanese shows in fact, which takes me to:

"Why did the writer and director of the series choose this ending? What was wrong with a more positive ending? It seems weird, since even when it's not called for, in order to attract more viewers, producers and directors prefer happy endings "

This may be true for shows targeting audiences such as teenagers, childs or genres which want to make people forget about their life and scape to a fairytale heartwarming story, but this is not entirely true when creators approach a more serious, delicate, contemplative storyline nor when they deal with "weird" psychological shows.   Japan does like to thrive into this  land of controversy when it comes to their movies/dramas and they have an audience for it, so it is not like they're taking a risk really. Also, there are many shows dealing with law that portray the flaws of the legal system.

Then again, I had not thought on "Mother" for quite a while, but now that we are on it... Have you watched the movie "Manbiki Kazoku"? (it was put as "Shoplifters" for the english speaking audience) it was highly praised and won a lot of awards. If not, I highly recommend it as it is kind of similar to "Mother" in some aspects and I think it will explain my points better.

Manbiki Kazoku's director and screenwriter, Hirokazu Koreeda, is very known for portraying this kind of "real life -raw- japanese society" into his movies, and he talks a lot about family on them as well. Not only Manbiki Kazoku but more of his movies will explain what I'm trying to say a lot better.

Hi Ara,

At first, let me say that seeing your reply made me really happy. I'm new here, so kind of experimenting things. I'd like serious discussion on the content of J-dorama, but I know well that the vast majority want to just have fun, as they have enough serious stuff in their real life. Anyway, I'm happy that I'm finding people like you with more or less similar interests. This gives me motivation to keep writing and sharing my ideas.

But regarding 'Mother', there are lots of things to discuss: legally speaking, what exactly Nao should and could do, how and when a sad ending sells more, .... However, my main concern is this: Does the ending of 'Mother' make sense? Does the series enjoy logical flow? My answer is an absolute no. 

I have no problem with sad endings, otherwise I wouldn't be a big fan of J-Dorama in the first place!! But if the sad (or happy) ending doesn't make sense, then there is a big problem. The fact that Nao and Tsugumi can't live together, the fact that Tsugumi can't have all the direct support and love from Nao and her family, is sad enough, but I didn't expect otherwise. From the beginning, it's kind of obvious that their plan to live secretly is bound to fail. No complain about this. My issue is that after the failure, Nao kind of abandons Tsugumi for 13 years. This is out of her character. Before leaving their home, the desperate Tsugumi tells her mom that they might not recognize each other after such a long time. Nao's answer is something like, "No, I recognize you for sure", not that they'll sure see each other in the meantime. Also, in her letter, Nao tells 20-year-old Tsugumi things like: "You should be now 'Rena'", "Do you still like cream soda?" "Do you wear high-heels?" All of these suggests that they're gonna have zero contact for a long period. If it was only this, I would assume that it's just Nao's gloomy thoughts before their departure, but then the series finishes with that promised meeting between Nao and 20-year-old Tsugumi, re-assuring us that they haven't seen each other for all these years!

But why? Let's assume that the legal system is so rigid that there is no way for Nao to adopt Tsugumi, directly or through some proxy, a friend. Does this mean that they have to sit and wait for 13 years? Tsugumi already found a way to call Nao! And sooner or later, they can email each other. After all, we live in the digital age! Nao can find out about the people working in the child care, and then try to talk and make some allies helping them contact or even visit each other on a regular basis. The fact is that soon, the people in the child care notice how much Tsugumi loves Nao. As the series shows, the child care staff are nice and caring, so how can they ignore the kid's feelings, especially now that everyone knows the biological mother almost killed the girl and it was Nao who saved her life? There are millions of other ways for them to keep their contact, and for someone in love, a mother, it should be easy to find and try all these ways.

As I said, the main thing is that Tsugumi sees Nao as her mother and their bond is strong. This means that any kind of communication, even a phone call or an email, means the world to Tsugumi. It's her main source of strength and hope for the future. For this reason, even without living together, Nao can and should help and support her girl in any possible way. 

To conclude, the logical ending would be something like this: Nao explains to Tsugumi that because of the conviction, they can't live together for now, but she uses all her means to find ways for them to write, talk, see, and eventually live together. It is not clear how much they will be successful, but it's way better, and more logical than writing that gloomy letter and saying goodbye for 13 years. There is a Korean remake of Mother that I hate badly, but its ending is like this. I found that ending much more logical. This was my point.

And thanks for the suggestion. A good friend also suggested me "Manbiki Kazoku".  I'll watch it for sure. I've watched another movie of Koreeda, Our Little Sister (2015), though. I love it! So, I'm already his fan! I just hope he will make some drama series in the future.

Interesting PoV, faarian. I doubt anything I say can change your mind on the ending of "Mother", but let my throw my two cents.

IMO, it's not so much that the Japanese love to glorify pain, it's more that they're very big into the idea of sincerely showing repentance for supposed transgression. Nao's transgression was that she broke the law by kidnapping Tsugumi, obviously. And just like you said, the showrunners didn't need to have Nao distanced herself like that. Okay, the possibility of her adopting Tsugumi might be closer to zero after she kidnapped her, but there should be workaround, maybe her mother could try something, etc.

That they chose not to show such workaround, I think, was a calculated move on screenwriter Sakamoto Yuuji's part. He wanted the (Japanese) viewers to sympathize with Nao (and Tsugumi). Making Nao and her family battle it at court for Tsugumi's custody* would make viewers less sympathetic to her, and as such, would make them less receptive of Sakamoto's message, which is: that blood is not always thicker than water. And that it should be socially acceptable for outsiders to take a drastic action when a child's welfare is at stake. I mean, these should be obvious, but even if they are, the Japanese are still reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic abuse, for fear of seen as "busybodies" or "violating the privacy of others".

*I don't even know if it's possible to do that in Japan, actually, especially if the foster family is not a blood relation of the child.

Some pertinent articles that you might find interesting:

Hi kura2ninja!

First of all, thanks for the informative links. That Sugita's statements were shocking to me, what a moron!

Second and on 'Mother': You mentioned things on how the screenwriter wanted to affect the Japanese audience. I can't say anything about this, as I'm not that familiar with the society. My ideas, however, are based on the drama series itself . In particular, I'd like to see whether we have a coherent story.

Regarding 'Nao's transgression' and her repentance as you mentioned: In general, I can see that the idea of showing repentance is an important element of Japanese culture. And possibly, many Japanese think Nao should do this, but as far as the series is concerned, there is no single moment suggesting such a thing. Instead, the first episode puts emphasis on two issues: (1) The abuse of Rena by her mother and her mother's boyfriend, and (2) The inefficacy of the legal system and the indifference of the officials about this case of abuse. There is another teacher in the school trying hard to support Rena, but at the end, she is alone and disappointed, since no one listens to her. For this reason, as the series shows, it is both Rena's family, and the officials that are responsible for Rena's sufferings and almost death. So, when Nao tries to kidnap Rena, it seems totally understandable that she can't trust the legal system. After seeing Rena in the plastic bag in the cold winter night, the idea of kidnapping seem natural to me. So all in all, Nao is depicted as Rena's savior, not a transgressor of something valuable. Even the series' title that changes the letter 'T' to a cross likens Nao to the savior, Jesus. So, Nao is the last to blame. Also, In her court, Nao doesn't show any sign of repentance. Instead, she insists that she still considers herself as Tsugumi's mother. But let's assume that for some reason, justified or unjustified, Nao feels guilty. She is free to show her repentance in so many ways, except for abandoning her daughter for 13 years. This kind of repentance is much worse that her initial 'transgression'. Why should Tsugumi suffer from Nao's repentance? What kind of repentance is this? It's utterly illogical and cruel. So, as I said, a really simple and logical ending could be this: Nao tells Tsugumi that they have to live apart for some time, but she will try any possible way to be with her. There is no need to say what exactly Nao will do; as far as we are informed that Nao is going to try everything possible to come closer to Tsugumi, we have the logical ending. Instead, we actually have that depressing letter: it's like every sentence of that is exactly written for torturing us, the viewers:

"As long as the memory of me holding your little hands remain, it will be our guide and brings us together", "I wonder what will you be like" "I wonder what kind of lady you'll become" "As you walk towards me and we pass by each other, how should I call out to you?" "What question should I start with?" "Do you recognize me?" "How tall are you?" "Are you in love?" "Do you still like light blue?" "Do you still like cream soda?" "Would you like to have one with me?" "How are you Tsugumi?" (Baka! Nao! There are things like cellphone and email, so you can ask any question you want in the meantime, no need to wait for 13 years!!)

Regarding 'glorifying pain', I'm not claiming that it's the only factor explaining the ending. There might be many others I am not aware of. But, to me, this essential element of the Japanese culture can explain the ending and some other issues in the series very well.  More specifically, there is an assumption that mothers are like Jesus, so they have to take all the pain and sacrifice themselves. I'm elaborating on this in the second part of my post soon.

it's like every sentence of that is exactly written for torturing us, the viewers:

Oh, I have no doubt that's precisely what Sakamoto wanted to do.  In part that's just his "quirk", let's just say. One of his oldest dramas that I watched, Tokyo Love Story, featured a female lead beloved by viewers, and a main couple everyone was rooting for, only to have them break up by the last episode because the male lead thought her love was suffocating. And the last scene we saw of them together was several years later, when he had finally married his old flame, while she remained single. I think you're on to something when you said that the Japanese required Jesus-like--or is it Mary-like?--sacrifice from women, or mothers in particular. And I really do believe he routinely wrote about women's plight, and the sacrifices they made, not because he's a sadist, but because he wanted to show some snippets of reality. It's like, these people didn't need to suffer so, but they did. And by showing such suffering and difficulties, he aimed to make his (Japanese) viewers more sympathetic to real people in similar situation.

Speaking of Sakamoto Yuuji, someone who I think is a user here on MDL (with the same screen name used on his blog) wrote about some of Sakamoto's more acclaimed works, in case you're interested: They're just short commentaries, nothing really in-depth, but I personally enjoyed them.

Looking forward to part 2 of your writeup, btw.

Ara & kura2ninja

First of all, I want to say that I kept my promise and posted the second and last part of this post here!


Thanks for introducing the weblog and the member, now I'm following him here! Also, thank you for telling me that about Tokyo Love Story. I heard about it, but now I know I shouldn't watch it:)

Just one thing about this Sakamoto Yuuji guy! I've also watched two other of his works: Woman (2013) and Love that Makes You Cry (2016).  First, he is a great writer to be sure. Second, as its name is telling, the latter series has this torturing element as well! I mean the characters do a great job at complicating things and torturing their lovers and themselves. But at least, they've gradually learnt and become more mature, so the ending is kind of happy. However, to make sure that we don't have too much fun, Sakamoto doesn't let the lovers live together, they just plan to visit each other from time to time:) On the other hand, I can't see any kind of 'worshiping pain' in 'Woman'. Surely, the life of the family is full of pain, but it's just what the unfavourable circumstances bring to them. And I'd like the fact that when Koharu notices that she has no way other than getting help from her mother, despite all her anger toward the mother, despite all the contempt she has to endure to be allowed to live there, she does this, because she doesn't want her kids to suffer more. I'd like her flexibility.


Oh, I forgot! I also watched Soredemo, Ikite Yuku (2011) from Sakamoto Yuuji. And I have to say that this glorification of pain plays a big role there as well! Everything is ready for Futaba and Hiroki to be partners, but Futaba decides to take responsibility for what her older brother did! And then we have that painful goodbye scene between the lovers. Sakamoto should've enjoyed writing that part a lot:) On the other hand, Futaba's decision is understandable: when you grew up in such a condition, nothing is normal;  you can't start a relationship like a normal person. For the whole life, you have to face a real nightmare. Hopefully, at some point in the future, she can have a more normal life.

Thank you for mentioning the name of Sakamoto Yuuji. Despite all my concerns and criticism, I'd really like his works, so from now on, I keep a closer look at his works.