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Directed by Tetsu Maeda

Cast: Kei Tanaka, Mei Nagano, Satomi Ishihara

​​Adorable kiddo Mitan has always wondered about her late mother, whom she never met. Sensing an absence in Mitan’s life, her father brings home a new bride, the sparkling Rika who turns Mitan’s bedroom, closet, and entire childhood into a colorful fairy tale. Meanwhile, high school senior Yuko lives with a doting single father who serves up wondrous bentos and dinners for a stepdaughter he’s long tried to impress, even years after he married her mother.

Uniting these parallel stories is the unique love of the single step-parent, whose attachment to their children is not ensured through blood but by everyday acts of comfort, gratitude, and protection. Their techniques vary, though. Rika is a capricious rocket ship of a stepmom, following her own unpredictable romantic whims and mysterious detours of self-care. Yuko’s stepdad is the super-parent type: suit-and-tie at work, apron in the kitchen.

There is drama too, and at least one story-spinning surprise. AND SO THE BATON IS PASSED whips the kind of narrative turns that transform a hat, a wedding dress, or a piano performance into tears, hope, and sympathy. There’s no shortage of positivity in the film, or of dazzling fashions. This is comfort melodrama at its most heart-tugging and showstopping.

—Brian Hu

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