Episode 4: My true mother
Akira is not a gay but falters when confronted about it by Yumi because he likes her. Yumi may not be good with housework but she is a very capable person who is already a copy editor at her age. She has been given the nickname ‘smiling ghost’ because of the tough demands she makes with a smile while her working style is dubbed ‘tank’. Akira likens tackling Yumi head-on to rushing at a tank with a bamboo spear. So instead of clearing the air with her, he tells her to treat him like a female friend because of the notion that something deeper is conveyed without communicating everything. He had learnt this from his father one fateful day in the bath when he was 11.
On the other hand, Kensuke is disappointed that Akira is only his mother’s colleague who has been helping out because he lives in the neighbourhood, and not her boyfriend. The boy astutely notes that it may be the case on the exterior … … but Yumi explains that she took precautions yesterday. She treats Akira as a friend and will not misinterpret his kindness or have any expectations.
In 1985, Akira seeks the facts of his mother’s accidental death from Shoun, and then Taeko. Both of them cannot hide their discomfort. At the same time, Kuzuhara relays that his wife saw a man telling Taeko that he wants her to meet their daughter before marriage. None of the men knew that Taeko has daughter. Shoun does not think it matters but Yasu feels it will not be easy to go for drinks now that they have heard about it. He decides that being a shoulder for Taeko to lean on is something a man can do. So he gets elected by the others to be their representative. But when they are outside Yunagi, Yasu tries to wiggle out of it. Just then, Taeko emerges from Yunagi. Spotting Yasu, she quickly grabs hold of him.
Yasu ends up being asked by Taeko if he intends to continue keeping Misako’s accident a secret from his son. She had dodged the question by claiming to be unsure but she suspects that Akira did not believe her at all. She also cannot bear to see him go around asking about the accident. Yasu responds that this is for Akira’s sake since he cannot imagine telling his son that his mother sacrificed herself for him. Not being able to tell the truth makes Yasu worry more.
The next morning, Taeko’s ex-husband Hajime and daughter Yasuko visit Yasu at his workplace to ask for his help since they heard that he is a childhood friend. Yasuko wishes to meet her mother once before she gets married but Hajime was rejected. Yasu does not think Taeko will listen to him too. Nevertheless, Yasu visits Yunagi to convey this to Taeko who asks if she should meet the daughter she abandoned. Yasu is surprised. Taeko starts to tell him about the reason for her divorce for the first time.
Taeko’s mother-in-law who was from an old farming family appeared to have a daughter-in-law that she wanted. In spite of that, her son brought Taeko. This was why she did not like Taeko from the start. When Taeko gave birth to a girl, she liked her even less because a girl was perceived to be a money sucker who would eventually go to another family. She would call Taeko a lazy daughter-in-law who could only have girls. In short, she made Taeko want to leave the house. She was soon asking Taeko when she would have a boy. Just then, Taeko found herself ridiculed about her childbearing ability by an old man. That was the last straw. She could not remain any longer and begged her husband for a divorce but he did not want the family register to bear this stain. She was told that if she wished to make it official, she would have to leave their daughter behind. In the end, she chose her own freedom. So how could he ask this of her now. She says she does not want to see her daughter which prompts Yasu to call her a liar. Why is he Ya-chan to her when the others call him Yasu or Ya-san? He guesses that it is because she called Yasuko, Ya-chan. At that, Taeko yells at him to shut up.
Yasu persists in asking Taeko to meet Yasuko because he pities her daughter but Taeko turns it around and says that Akira is the pitiful one. This irritates Yasu who asks what makes it similar to her situation. She replies that she does not want to be lectured by someone who has neglected a child who wants to know about his parent. Yasu storms out, vowing never to visit Yunagi again.
That night, Yasu receives a phone call from Yukie asking if Akira has returned home. Akira had come to their house today to ask about Misako’s accident. Yukie thinks it is about time he tells Akira the truth. Will Yukie be able to tolerate it if she were the one hearing the news that her mother had died in place of her, Yasu asks. Just as he is about to go out to search for Akira, the phone rings again. This time, the caller is Bito who says Akira has come to ask about his mother’s accident. He is going to tell Akira because he feels sorry for him. Yasu asks him to wait and hurries over. However, when he arrives, Akira has already left.
Yasu frantically goes around searching for his son and finally finds him sitting in front of the memorial for Misako at the loading bay where the accident happened. Yasu asks Akira why he went around his back asking people instead of coming straight to him. Akira thinks it would have been bad of him to make his father talk about the accident since he knows how much Yasu loves her. But he still wants to know about Misako because he does not remember anything about his mother besides vague memories of being carried by her. “Will you be able to accept whatever you hear?” Yasu questions.
Father and son soak in the bath together when they get home, and Yasu finally tells Akira about Misako’s accident. He describes how Misako would carry Akira and sing, cook more dishes than they could possibly finish and smile at the sight of the two of them eating. She was a kind, gentle person who always put herself last. “Because she was that kind of person, on that day … … On that day …” Yasu cannot bring himself to continue so he dunks his head into the water before saying, “On that day, your mum died protecting me.” Akira seems surprised by this revelation. Yasu claims that Misako and Akira came to his company on a day off as he wanted to show them cargo handling. But a package broke apart and Misako was pinned under it when she thrust him aside. “It wasn’t to protect me?” Akira cautiously asks. He had reached that conclusion since no one would talk about it. Yasu says he hid it from everyone because she died for his sake. He did not want to tell Akira. After all, it would not restore her to life. Akira wishes his father had told him clearly about his mother’s last moments.
The next morning, Yasu sees Kaiun when he goes to the temple. When Kaiun says that he was expecting to see Akira, Yasu requests that he feign ignorance and keep the truth from him. Kaiun thinks being scorned or despised is a trivial matter but Yasu does not seem to share his sentiments. So Kaiun asks if he will dislike Akira if he is despised by him or if he will like Akira if he is loved by him. Yasu protests that that will not happen but abruptly stops short, as if struck by the realisation that he might truly be responding in this way.
That night, Yasu spots Kuzuhara’s wife heading towards Yunagi with Yasuko. Yasuko explains that she does not think her mother will see her, so she has asked Kuzuhara’s wife to pretend to be a friend bringing her to Yunagi as a first-time customer. Kuzuhara’s wife does not believe there will be a problem as long as nothing is said. Then she leaves Yasuko in Yasu’s care. Yasuko says she will be contented just to see her mother’s face and they decide that she will pose as a girl that Yasu met at a shop.
Not that any pretense is necessary when they enter Yunagi since Taeko’s expression shows that she is aware who Yasuko is. Even so, she goes along with the charade. But the conversations she initiates first with Bito and then with the others are actually remarks directed at her daughter. The secret to keeping a business going is to be able to let go of things. What counts most is the present and not the past. If a person cannot do this, he will not be able to keep at something for long. The worst thing is to nurse a grudge because it is useless and a waste of time.
When Yasu mentions that Yasuko is getting married, Taeko congratulates her. Taeko deliberately advises Kuzuhara to note down the difficulties he experienced raising his children so that he can show it to them when they grow up and prepare them for the big trouble involved in nurturing their own children. In comparison to that, giving birth to a child is like passing gas. So they should be appreciative of the people who brought them up. Turning to Shoun, she asks if the most unfillial act is for a child to die before his parents. By this time, Shoun is weeping and he awkwardly agrees. Taeko says it is better for parents to die first. Seeing the happiness of a child with their own eyes is an indulgence on the part of the parents. They do not have to see it. It is good enough that their child is happy. Yasu mutters that Taeko is a fool.
Then Taeko gives Yasu and Yasuko a bowl of clam soup each and makes a slip by calling Yasuko, “Ya-chan”. Recovering herself, she pretends to ask if Yasuko’s nickname is Ya-chan too. She proceeds to tell them that these clams are served at weddings because the top and bottom shells fit perfectly, but this is not so with other types of clams. This symbolism of a perfect fit means that the couple has to remain married for life and keep cool in the face of difficulties. Yasuko’s eyes grow red and start to fill with tears. When Taeko hears that she likes children, she advises her to be a strong parent. One who will never let go of her child’s hand even if she gets worn out. Taeko turns away from Yasuko to hide her own tears.
Yasuko later confides to Yasu and Shoun that she never imagined her mother would be such a kind person because she had been told that Taeko was the type who abandons her child. Yasu tries to explain to her why Taeko had to leaave her behind. But Yasuko does not need to hear it because she knows that there is more to it than meets the eye. Shoun thinks that Yasu should tell it to Akira in the way that Taeko did. However, Yasu feels that if he does so, Akira would know that he had lied. Nothing matters to him as long as Akira is happy.
At that same moment, Akira is standing at his mother’s grave with Kaiun. Akira tells Kaiun that he thinks his father was crying when he told him that Misako died protecting him but he had tried to hide it by putting his head underwater. Kaiun observes that it must have been painful for Yasu to tell Akira that he survived by taking another person’s life. If Akira were in his father’s position, he would wish he had never been born. Akira decides that he and his father should do their best together, and the next morning, he tells Yasu that they are the only two people in this world whom Misako gave life to, so the two of them should do their best for her sake. Yasu is touched that Akira has matured.
Back in the present, Yumi tells Akira that Kensuke is hoping that he will eventually become his father. She has tried to explain it to him but thinks that her son will continue to keep on hoping as long as Akira goes to the kindergarten. She apologises for imposing on him for a long time. Akira waves it off and says he has never thought of it that way but Yumi is determined to put an end to it, and thanks him with a tone of finality.
Akira’s attempt at conveying his feelings without communicating everything has turned out to be a spectacular failure. But he realises that he was not even doing that. He was instead trying to score brownie points by helping her with Kensuke in the hope of moving forward bit by bit as compared to his father’s … … This thought compels him to leave office that night and rush to Yumi’s apartment.
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