A portrayal of a Marmee March-like mother amidst an unconventional family setup, Ryota Nakano’s latest masterpiece showed a story that is relatable and yet inspirational for its twists and turns. Written and directed by the 9th Skip City International D-Cinema Festival (2012) Best Director awardee Ryota Nakano, the 2016 film Her Love Boils Bathwater tells the story about Futaba who was diagnosed with cancer and has decided to spend her remaining days not having treatments but by bringing back her estranged husband to their home, restarting their family’s shut-down bathhouse business, and setting her daughter Azumi on the path to independence.
Nakano sets the tone by starting the film with a montage of Futaba’s home. Quaint and provincial, the traditional house was just beside the family’s closed bathhouse. Aside from the written note at its door saying that the owner has disappeared “like a bubble”, the structure was also bleak and dreary with its broken walls and colour-faded interiors. By setting up a metaphor of this house being embraced by the sun’s warm light, the setting spoke more about the family that has been living in there.
Futaba has taken over the father-role by being more commanding and authoritative as seen in her sequences with her daughter Azumi at the onset of the film. But despite her display of strength—attending to her daughter’s needs and working hard to earn enough money for their finances—Futaba slowly broke down into pieces.
“There has been many deaths in my family and therefore I end up thinking about that,” said Nakano to Philippine Tatler. “I tend to think about how people deal with illness, imminent death. Something that I also think of, ‘how do people live after the death of a loved one.’”
Nakano’s other award-winning film Captivating Dad (2013) tackles the similar theme of “living” versus “dying”. Both stories portray mother-daughter relationships and their attempts to revive their connection with their estranged fathers.
“For me, I’d like to show the people when humans are living hard, there would always be funny moments. There’s this ‘light’ even though it’s very difficult.”
True enough, Her Love Boils Bathwater was successful in showing a blend of light drama and dark comedy. According to Nakano, he was inspired by Japan’s another successful filmmaker Shōhei Imamura’s jyu kigeki (heavy comedy) style.
Miyazawa Rie’s portrayal of Futaba was incredibly genuine that made audiences get drawn to her character as the film unfolded with each scene. Futaba’s strength and resilience can be seen in Miyazawa’s display of firmness despite the character’s circumstances. With her emotional subtext and countertext in most of the scenes, it was definitely a stellar performance—deeply moving but ends with her unpredictable crazy antics that give soft notes to the film.
Futaba’s unwavering efforts to reconnect Azumi to her biological mother, her husband Kazuhiro to their family which he left behind a year ago, and serve as a loving stepmother to Kazuhiro’s illegitimate daughter Ayuko resulted in another exhibition of Futaba’s strength. Together with their friends, the family built a pyramid formation outside the hospital where Futaba was staying. It has been her long-time dream to see the Pyramids of Giza herself but instead, she built a solid pyramid of family and friends founded in unconditional love.
“Futaba never showed weakness to others,” Nakano explained. “She was always thinking of other people’s feelings. And so when she was seeing her family doing the pyramid, that was the first time that she sort of realised ‘I’m gonna die and won’t be with these people anymore.’ That was the moment where for the first time, she spoke honestly. That’s why she uttered those words long after she has already accepted her fate. She was honest and was really herself.”
The film closes predictably with Futaba’s cremation. We see the smiles of Futaba’s family and friends whose lives she has touched and motivated to find their own sense of fulfilment. However with a closer look, it wasn’t something one would expect to see. Nakano’s exploration on the themes of life and death with a passionate, caring, and selflessly loving mother at its helm has led to a portrayal of an explosion of love—breaking the limits of one’s physical body and transforming into a boiling bathwater for those she loved the most.
Futaba may have passed away but her love was enduring, just like with those other ironies in her life. What supposed to be a sad ending turned to be something hopeful. The red smoke rising out of their furnace gives audiences relief after seeing Futaba’s struggles. It was her freedom from the pains in her heart that somehow challenged her in giving love.
Nakano’s Her Love Boils Bathwater was a perfect opening to the 20th Eigasai. Although some characters appear to lack exposure they suppose to have and Futaba has a lot of subtext that some audiences may find it as confusing, it was still an interesting showcase of Nakano’s attempt to blend together life’s many ironies. It was authentic in its portrayal of broken relationships and the actors pulled off in portraying their flawed, very humanised characters. With impeccable performances from its cast, greatly detailed production, visually appealing cinematography, compelling screenplay, one may find himself watching this over and over again—just like how Futaba’s love tirelessly boiling bathwater.