Zlín Film Fest Review: A Nessie in Japan in ‘Mother Lake’

Zlín Film Fest Review: A Nessie in Japan in ‘Mother Lake’

Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan, gets its very own version of Nessie in Mother Lake, a surprisingly subtle film (given that premise) from director Naoki Seki that would work wonderfully as a short subject but strains for feature-length story material.

An unusual framing device that takes place in 2036 features Ryosuke (Asahi Uchida), a renowned photographer, returning to his hometown for an exhibition of his work. There he encounters childhood friend Kento, who has built an homage to what the pair once experienced on the Lake.

In present day, Ryosuke is a young schoolboy who takes a ferry to a small island with Kento on a school assignment to chart the geology of the location.

There, with Kento’s sister Saki and a local police constable, they encounter something in the lake: a spiny hump jutting out of the water and slowly moving with the tide that bears an uncanny resemblance to Scotland’s famed Loch Ness Monster.

A media frenzy dubbing the lake creature ‘Biwassie’ ensues, sending hundreds of onlookers to the small island hoping to catch a peek at the creature. But what have Ryosuke and his friends really seen?

Ryosuke’s story is paralleled with that of his single father (Tetsuya Bessho), a put-upon TV cameraman and alcoholic struggling to raise his son with the help his sister (Mayu Tsuruta), who seems to do most of the work.

The two plotlines intersect with backstory that involves notes left behind by Ryosuke’s deceased mother, a photographer who happened to catch sight of the creature when she was a child - and charted when it might appear again.

Mother Lake may feature a straightforward concept, but the execution is unanticipated: this is a film far less interested about the creature that the plot revolves around than the characters at the heart of the story.

The nostalgic recreation of a childhood summer hunting the unknown on Japan’s Lake Biwa is especially appealing.

Only downside: the lethargic pacing and lack of narrative motivation tends to wear down the viewer’s patience. There’s enough material here for a terrific 45-minute short, but stretched out to feature length it struggles to maintain interest.

Still, Mother Lake is a delicate, evocative little film that bucks expectations and is worth a look if you’re in the right mood. The unusual soundtrack was provided by Japanese jazz artists JABBERLOOP.

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