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IDFA - Embracing & Katatsumori & Birth/Mother + Doc Talk



One of the reasons Naomi Kawase wanted to make films was to find answers to fundamental questions. Why do I exist? Who am I? These were the concerns that preoccupied her as an adopted child being brought up by her great-uncle and great-aunt, whom she refers to as “Grandpa” and “Grandma.”

This early film by the director revolves around the search for her father, whom she never knew because he left when she was little. Naomi”s adoptive mother Uno discourages her from trying to find this man, claiming that he”s both a stranger and a bad person, but Naomi goes ahead anyway. She finds her birth certificate and goes searching for information about her father. Right up to the moment when she calls him, she has doubts about whether she really wants to meet him after all.

Kawase combines home movies and handheld footage of her surroundings, but she also points the camera at herself. The overlapping projected images of her face as she desperately searches for her identity are particularly powerful.


In this first part of her trilogy of short films about the great-aunt who raised her from a young age, Naomi Kawase sketches a loving portrait of Uno Kawase, or “Grandma,” as she calls her. Now in her early 80s, Uno is delighted at her continuing good health and is utterly confident that she”ll make it to 100.

Sometimes the director observes her adoptive mother from a distance of several meters, but more often she goes in close—very close. So close in fact that occasionally the elderly woman has clearly had enough of it and tells her to stop. But most of the time she lets the director have her way, even when that means she has to stand outdoors in the cold for a while. It”s clear from the way the pair interact that Uno sees her great-niece as her own child.

When Uno turns the tables and starts filming the director, we discover that Katatsumori is just as much about Naomi Kawase herself as it is about her adoptive mother. The director brings their intimate bond to the screen using simple means and without ever resorting to sentimentality.


A decade after completing the trilogy of short films that she made in the mid-1990s about her adoptive mother, Naomi Kawase returns to her subject. The director”s “grandma,” her great-aunt Uno Kawase who raised her from a baby, is now 90 years old. Here, she captures the elderly woman in more intimate scenes than before. We see her naked in bed, for example, with the camera zooming in on the folds of her belly and breasts, as she talks about how Naomi suckled there—even though no milk came out. The scenes in which Naomi Kawase gives birth to her own child are equally candid.

This time it”s a mother”s gaze that guides the director as she films her great-aunt. She”s now a woman who wants to know why her grandma never had children of her own. The tone is more confrontational than in the past, such as when Naomi reminds Uno of the hurtful things she said when Naomi was a teenager—causing the elderly woman to become very upset. More than in the earlier short films in the series, this distressing scene exposes just how complex their relationship is.

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