“Two on the Edge” opens with a harrowing scene in which a young girl sits alone in a dark bathroom, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to an absent mother. From the bruises on her face and the treatment of her by her mother’s partner it is clear that she is suffering neglect and abuse at the hands of these adults. Many years later, after fleeing home, this girl Otose (Meiri Asahina) is leaving her foster home and begins a job at a hotel, taken under the wing of senior housekeeper Abigail. Shortly after, Otose’s mother Yoko (Akie Namiki) reappears, asking for financial support from her daughter. Otose, happy to be reunited with her, tries to help, but wonders whether her mother has really changed. A subplot sees another mother-daughter relationship, as teen idol Yume (Maki Teraura) discovers she is pregnant and argues with her mother over her future.

Director Yusuke Kitaguchi creates a powerful emotional drama with “Two on the Edge”, dealing with difficult themes of child abuse and neglect, as well as self-harm. The screenplay, by Kitaguchi and Mahiro Yuki, never shows the physical abuse, but the tearful face of child actor playing the young Otose, and the cold-hearted way she is spoken to are hard to watch, suggesting the unseen horrors she is being subjected to. The performances of Meiri Asahina as the older Otose and Akie Namiki as her neglegent mother are exceptional, complex portrayals of women who are both burdened by their past experiences. The film further establishes Otose as a conflicted character by having a representation of her inner critic appear to chide and encourage her. This is well-handled in a film that is mostly down-to-earth realism, showing that she still yearns for her mother’s affection while understanding that she is being manipulated. Kitaguchi’s direction sees hand-held close-ups and incredible use of lighting, creating a dark, intimate portrait of these troubled individuals, and the melancholic score perfectly compliments the drama. The story of Yume and her mother (Kyoko Masago) is almost a counterbalance to the tragedy of the main plot, with their relationship being comparatively less problematic.

“Two on the Edge” deals with the aftermath of child neglect and abuse, as we see the impact it has had on Otose. She is deeply anxious to receive her mother’s love, or at least acknowledgement, but also enough of a realist to apprecaite what has happened to her. The film shows that this kind of abuse leaves a lifelong mark on those it affects. Her mother’s actions are despicable and inexcusable, but the film also hints at a troubled past for her, suggesting she may have suffered hard times in her youth, as she mentions her father losing the family business and drinking heavily as a teen. This notion that abuse can be multi-generational is portrayed well, neither absolving her guilt, nor making her entirely unsympathetic. A powerful drama about the often fraught relationships between mothers and daughters that questions whether forgiveness and redemption are possible in such circumstances.

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