Review: Her Love Boils Bathwater, Japanese Film Festival 2022

Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016) is a charming Japanese drama by Ryota Nakano. It is a film about the benevolent power of family, womanhood, and most importantly, motherhood.  Equal parts comedy and tragedy, it’s the kind of film that will lift your spirits, only to break your heart, only to lift your spirits once again.


Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016) is a charming Japanese drama by Ryota Nakano. It is a film about the benevolent power of family, womanhood, and most importantly, motherhood.  Equal parts comedy and tragedy, it’s the kind of film that will lift your spirits, only to break your heart, only to lift your spirits once again.

The story follows Futaba, a single mother, who lives with her sixteen-year-old daughter, Azumi. The two of them have been on their own since Azumi’s father walked out on them the previous year. Despite their struggles, Futaba works tirelessly to give Azumi a good life. Things are hard, but Futaba’s boundless optimism and fierce determination keeps the pair going, that is, until a fainting spell at work leads Futaba to discover that she is terminally ill and only has a few months left to live. Futaba spends the rest of the evening processing her diagnosis, privately weeping in her family’s old bathhouse, as the sun sets over her crumpled, foetal figure—a tragic role reversal from a tall, comforting mother to a small, whimpering child. But she doesn’t stay down for long–there is a lot of work left for her to do, and not a lot of time left for her to do it.

From here, Futaba’s story branches out and reaches into the lives of various secondary characters. She locates her deadbeat husband, Kazuhiro, whose lover also walked out on him for someone else, leaving him as the sole caregiver of their young daughter, Ayuto (it seems this film has a taste for karma!) Before long, the four of them—Futaba, Azumi, Kazuhiro and Ayuto—form their own family, bonded together by one tangible goal: restoring Futaba’s old family bathhouse.

Most of the film’s emotional peaks and troughs happen far more organically than we’d see in a simple three or four-act structure. Casual set-ups scatter the first half hour of the film, but their payoffs are never particularly flashy. For instance, we learn early on that Azumi can speak sign language which, though an intriguing set up, the payoff isn’t so much a plot twist as it is a natural (albeit tear-jerking) reveal: while they’re on a road trip, Futaba confesses to Azumi that she is not her birth mother. Her actual birth mother happens to be deaf, which is why Futaba insisted that Azumi be taught sign language.

This is only one example of how Futaba brings love and kindness to the people around her. She inspires courage in her two adoptive daughters and lights a fire under everyone who crosses her path. There’s the aimless hitchhiker, who ends up taking a job at the bathhouse, and then there’s the private investigator, who finally comes to terms with his wife’s death. When Azumi is being bullied early on in the film, Futaba convinces her to stand up for herself. When Ayuto is waiting for her own birth mother out in the rain, Futaba gives her a hot breakfast and a place to call home. In this film, the mother figure is not just a staple of nature—she is a force of nature, sweeping through the characters’ lives and lifting them to safety.

Futaba strives to look after others, mending their troubles with the perfect blend of simplicity and sincerity. The only real indication of her personal desires is in her favourite colour—“Red like passion.” From there on, passion becomes a prevailing character trait, as Futaba proceeds to live her remaining days to the absolute fullest. That’s probably why, during a scene where she is crouched over a toilet, coughing up blood, it’s so upsetting to watch: the very colour of her vigour has been turned against her in a tragic subversion, draining her of the life force that once empowered her.

Futaba passes away right at the end of the film—another cleanly foreshadowed, but painfully resonant scene, as the memorial shrine slowly pans into focus. At her funeral, the private investigator claims, “She made people feel like they’d do anything for her. It’s probably because she made people feel like she’s doing much more for them.” And it’s true. From what the audience has seen, Futaba is constantly giving and giving to the people around her, without getting much in return. People appreciate her; more than that, they’re in awe of her, but it feels like their efforts can never compare. Maybe that’s why this line really struck a chord with me. More than a summary of Futaba’s character, it describes the bond between mother and child as a whole: something too powerful to name, let alone reciprocate, but universally recognised, nonetheless.

Her Love Boils Bathwater is a beautifully hyper-realistic film about a mother’s enduring strength. There are mothers who walked away from their children, mothers who wanted to stay, and mothers who couldn’t. Not once does the film disparage the efforts or struggles of other women, but rather draws attention to maternity as a whole, examining both the pressures and the powers it inflicts upon a woman’s life. Caregiving is certainly a burden but it is also a superpower, as the love Futaba holds for her family is precisely what keeps her going. Expect to shed some tears—a lot of tears, in fact—as Futaba lives out the short remainder of her life precisely as she desires: together with her family.

Her Love Boils Bathwater (JFF 2017) | 2016 | Director: Ry?¯ta Nakano
Featuring Japanese Academy Award winning performances from Rie Miyazawa and Hana Sugisaki (Pieta in the Toilet, JFF 2015), the film delves into the powerful bond between a strong-willed and deeply-loving mother and her family.

From a futuristic existential animation about androids to a culturally rich documentary delving into the art of ramen-making, the Japanese Film Festival: Online returns from 14-27 February 2022 with a free streamed Festival featuring the best in Japanese cinema.

Full program and streaming details available at: 

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