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Film review: Her Love Boils Bathwater – Japanese drama about a terminally ill family matriarch hits all the right notes

All four principal actors shine in this Ryota Nakano-directed film about a dying woman’s determination to bring her family together

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 December, 2016, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 3:36pm

4/5 stars

Following her impressive comeback in 2014’s Pale Moon , once-controversial actress Rie Miyazawa gives a heart-wrenching performance in Her Love Boils Bathwater as a terminally ill matriarch determined to reconcile her splintered family in her last remaining weeks.

Written and directed by Ryota Nakano, the film’s title refers to the small-town bathhouse run by Futaba (Miyazawa) and her family – that is, until husband Kazuhiro (Joe Odagiri) leaves her for another woman. When Futaba is diagnosed out-of-the-blue with stage-four cancer, she confronts Kazuhiro, only to discover him caring for Ayuko (Aoi Ito), a precocious nine-year-old daughter he never knew he had until recently.

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Futaba insists her husband brings young Ayuko to live with them, as their teenage daughter Azumi (Hana Sugisaki) is also struggling with issues at school and needs her father. But Futaba’s illness is not the only secret she is keeping from her daughter, and a road trip to Hakone promises many more revelations.

Balancing the impending tragedy with gentle humour and a procession of quirky ancillary characters, the film showcases an impressive collection of strong female characters and bold performances.

Miyazawa is painfully fragile and selfless, while even Odagiri’s womanising husband is cast in a sympathetic light. It is Sugisaki and the 11-year-old Ito, however, who truly shine, as the courageous younger generation, shouldering the grief and responsibility, while also maintaining their youthful lust for life.

Her Love Boils Bathwater opens on December 15

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