DIR/WRI: Hirokazu Koreeda • DOP: Mikiya Takimoto • ED: Hirokazu Koreeda • MUS: Henry Jackman • CAST: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Jun Fubuki
Having been awarded the special Jury prize at Cannes this Like Father, Like Son is automatically garnished with a certain esteem which raises our expectations for it to deliver. But its an accolade which certainly seems well deserved.
It’s directed by the very capable Hirokuza Kore-eda, who’s something of a modern Japanese cinematic humanist, in being both morally conscientious and emotionally yielding. The film itself is an emblem of pure craftsmanship, narratively and technically. It rises above the annals of mediocrity and transcends into something very powerful and endearing. Behind the apparent simplicity of a baby-swap premise, at the centre of this film is a fractured father/son dynamic, but not as we’ve seen it before. It’s executed with a profound subtlety which results in an engulfing emotional charge that can’t help but strike a nerve. While some of the narrative turns are at times a little predictable the quality of the performances are so potent that the viewer can’t help but let their emotions be seduced.
Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful professional, living a high quality of life in a luxurious apartment block with his family. But behind this façade he’s an obsessive workaholic who, in truth, has distanced himself from his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) and has an ambivalent relationship with his son Keito. This film is, in its principle essence, Ryota’s story – he’s the enigma driving the story. His apparent inability to show affection toward his son draws immediate notice very early on. Any illusions he has of an idealized family life undergo a dramatic shift when both he and his wife discover their 6 year old son was swapped with another boy in the hospital at birth.
As a consequence of this they meet with the parents of their real son and build up a social and legal rapport. There’s a significant class difference with the other parents Yudai (Franky Lily), and his wife Yukari (Yoko Maki). Yudai proves himself a loving and affectionate father constantly dotting on his children and gives a very obvious and stark contrast to Ryota. They both express some intention to sue the hospital for this mistake. We follow them as they struggle to decide what to do in relation to the children. Ryota’s flawed paternal concepts are at odds with his wife’s affection for their “son”. Ultimately Ryota has to overcome his own inhibitions and evolve his concept of fatherhood or lose his family.
The film is the bona fide work of a mature filmmaker, a meaningful lament on parenthood and the parent/child dynamic. The only genuine criticism is that some of the narrative reveals are quite obvious, but it’s not a film trying to generate profound truths; it’s a film embedded in accepted truths and realities and that is perhaps the best explanation as to why it succeeds regardless.
It’s hard not to marvel at Kore-eda’s cinematic discipline, there’s very little sense of coverage, the shots are administered sparsely. He lets the actions play out and when he cuts in closer or wider its significance is elevated tenfold.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Like Father, Like Son is released on 18th October 2013