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The joys of motherhood can feel a long way off during Takahisa Zeze’s “Tomorrow’s Dinner Table.” This handsomely overwrought drama lays out the challenges facing modern moms, in three interlinked tales of very different women whose sons share the same name.

Rumiko (Miho Kanno) is a freelance writer living in Kanagawa Prefecture, who blogs about her experiences raising two rambunctious, argumentative boys. After putting her career on hold, she’s trying to return to full-time work, and hopefully split the parenting duties with her errant photographer husband (Soko Wada).

Asumi (Machiko Ono) lives a seemingly idyllic life as a well-to-do housewife while her husband commutes long-distance to Tokyo from Shizuoka Prefecture, though there’s clearly some tension lurking beneath the surface. Meanwhile, Kana (Mitsuki Takahata) is a plucky single mother in Osaka, who’s working two jobs in order to support her son.

Tomorrow’s Dinner Table (Ashita no Shokutaku)
Rating
Run Time 124 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens May 28

They may be separated by class and circumstance, but the three have something in common: They all have a 10-year-old son named Yu Ishibashi. And that doesn’t bode well, as the film opens with a scene of a woman accidentally killing a boy of the same name. Is one of these mothers doomed to become a murderer?

You’ll have to wait to find out. The film declines to rely too heavily on the suspense angle foregrounded in its marketing campaign, which makes it easier to get absorbed in the particulars of each story.

Tomoko Ogawa’s screenplay, adapted from a novel by Michiko Yazuki, does an impressive job of keeping sight of the interlocking narratives, each of which could have been a film in itself.

In Takahata’s case, I wish it had been. The actress gives a luminous performance as a woman trying to provide a better life for her son, even as she’s barely keeping her head above water.

Kanno is also in strong form, in her first substantial movie role for years. Her character’s story mirrors the experiences of many mothers who have tried to get their careers back on track. Even when Rumiko’s husband finds himself unemployed, it never seems to occur to him to help out at home.

Then again, none of the film’s men are of much use to their womenfolk. Asumi’s husband is too in thrall to his mother (Kimie Shingyoji), who lives next door to them. The father of Kana’s son is out of the picture, but her work-shy brother (Kisetsu Fujiwara) more than compensates for his absence.

As with Zeze’s “The Promised Land,” another glossy literary adaptation, “Tomorrow’s Dinner Table” starts strong but descends into silliness. Ono is lumbered with a particularly hokey storyline, and her emoting during the film’s closing stretch feels like so much wasted effort.

The movie touches on so many contemporary issues — bullying, domestic abuse, dementia, work-life balance, learning disorders — that it doesn’t have time to say much about any of them. Though the three Yus are each given a narrative voiceover, these seem designed more to remind viewers of the boys’ presence than to make them legible as characters.

It would have been interesting to see these stories told from the perspectives of the kids rather than their harried mothers. That kind of approach might have elevated “Tomorrow’s Dinner Table” above the worthiness for which it aims, and given the film a life of its own.

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