Big Mama is an unashamed melodrama that is surprisingly gentle. There is no great tragedy, no milking of unpleasant situations for their emotive effect, and no villainous characters. That makes it rather more difficult to pluck on the heartstrings, but this film manages, using ordinary moments to show the strength of the family bonds. Okatsu, on seeing the intruder in her house, first abjures him to be quiet so as not to wake her sons, then serves him a bowl of noodle soup, since he’s clearly very hungry.
The time passes easily, with little overt manipulation of the audience, following a simple mystery about a young man who comes to rob and stays as a member of the family. There’s no easy resolution, of this or other questions, but the film ends on a positive note of redemption by the pressure of relentless human kindness. It’s the sort of family values that politicians wiffle about but seem not to truly value. Family values which embrace the whole human family. Family values that show ordinary people helping each other when the government and the rich people won’t.
In short, it’s not only a celebration of the importance of human values over those of cash, but an entertaining story of life in the poorer sections of Edo in the 18th century. Well worth a watch, if you like sweet films.