An expectant father finds himself confronted with paternal anxiety and past trauma on learning that his mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in Genki Kawamura’s adaptation of his own novel, A Hundred Flowers (百花, Hyakka). A prolific film producer behind such hits as Lee Sang-il’s Rage and Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions, Kawamura also penned the international bestseller If Cats Disappeared from the World which was later adapted into a film starring Takeru Satoh and here makes his directorial debut with a semi-autobiographical exploration of memory and forgetting.
Kawamura neatly signals his central concern in the opening scenes as Yuriko (Mieko Harada) seems to become unstuck in time, a withered dandelion on her kitchen table as she flits between swapping it for a new one and playing the piano eventually watching herself from an alternate temporal space. Her grown-up son Izumi (Masaki Suda) seems surprised to witness her decline on a visit home, running panicked through the streets looking for her only to find his mother sitting on the swings at the park muttering about “half fireworks”. When he approaches her she seems to mistake him for someone else, Izumi rejecting her too intimate hug and later making his exit earlier than expected, leaving the New Year food Yuriko has prepared uneaten and making an excuse about an emergency at work.
The chase through the streets may have awakened traumatic memories in Izumi too, forcing him to remember another time as a child he came home and found his mother gone. Disappearing again, Yuriko is found at his old school, guided by a memory of a parents day at which Izumi read out sections of Osamu Dazai’s Run, Melos!, a story of a man running back to the city to save his friend before he is executed in his place. Thrown back into the past, Yuriko later berates the grown Izumi for his habit of wandering off, suggesting that he gets lost on purpose so that she’ll look for him which is perhaps what Yuriko is doing longing for her son to understand and forgive her for an act of childhood betrayal. Kawamura often places the camera directly behind Izumi’s head, following him as he chases the mother who he fears has forgotten him while he feels foolish in his inability to forget her despite the depth of his resentment.
Ironically enough, Izumi and his heavily pregnant wife Kaori (Masami Nagasawa) both work at a music company developing a virtual idol whom they explain has been fed thousands of memories as data in order to improve her AI but ends up oddly soulless as if these fragments of moments in time are meaningless in isolation. His friend quips that maybe they should have given the AI the ability to forget, as if that would make it more “human” and relatable. Izumi is pretty sure he hasn’t forgotten anything important, but memory remakes itself every day and is in some ways selective. Though he holds his mother at arm’s length, he begins to put the past behind him in learning to forgive her and in the process regaining the happy memories of his earlier childhood that his trauma had taken from him.
The flowers so closely associated with Yuriko who is often dressed in a bright yellow are perhaps another allusion to Dazai and his insistance on embracing the gift of a single dandelion as a kind of metaphor for the frustrated love between mother and son, while the half fireworks they later see also resemble a dandelion dispersing mimicking the continual scattering of Yuriko’s memories. Izumi remarks that it’s like her memories are being stolen while charting her decline as a depletion of her identity until there is nothing left of her at all, the various boxes in her apartment standing in for blocks of data slowly being shed. Shifting between the perspectives of mother and son who are each in some way blind to the other, Kawamura touches on the tactile quality of memory as one moment sparks another while for Yuriko time proceeds on a maddening loop of overlapping incidents that robs of her present, past, and future in equal measure. The irony may be that only in losing his mother does Izumi begin to find her again, searching for her within the halls of his own memory and rediscovering a sense of himself as a child that he had long forgotten.
A Hundred Flowers screened as part of this year’s London East Asia Film Festival
International trailer (English subtitles)