Featuring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yôko Maki, Rirî Furankî, Keita Ninomiya, Shogen Hwang
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Movie website: www.ifcfilms.com/films/like-father-like-son
2013-14 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 31 March–6 April, 7.30pm
Joondalup Pines: 8–13 April, 7.30pm
Verdict: A gentle, superbly written and extremely moving family drama from a master of the form.
Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is an ambitious and driven Tokyo architect whose work demands leave him little quality time for his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) and 6-year-old son Keita (Keita Ninomiya). Out of the blue comes the shocking news that Keita is not theirs, having been switched at birth. They meet up with the Saikis, the family who received their true son, Ryusei (Shogen Hwang). The parents (Yoko Maki and Rirî Furankî) are an unaffected couple of modest means with several other children. The families agree to take back their genetic sons, and Ryota insists that there be no further interaction between them. However, the child swap does not go smoothly, and he is forced to re-assess his priorities and parenting approach.
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s previous films include the heart-rending Nobody Knows and the thoroughly charming I Wish. Disappointment so often follows high expectations, but not here. In Like Father, Like Son Kore-eda has yet again delivered a gentle, masterfully written and extremely moving family drama.
His pacing is typically slow but impeccable, the narrative unfolding naturally, seamlessly, mostly through expertly managed dialogue-driven character interaction.
While Kore-eda’s remarkable talent in bringing the best out of his child actors is again evident here, with wonderfully natural and emotionally mature performances from the boys who play the 6-year-old sons, most characterisation effort is directed at the development of Ryota. This is both the main strength and weakness of the film. While Ryota’s development as a character is beautifully managed by both director and actor, the glaring focus on the lead character takes its toll on the others, notably the wives, who aren’t much more than sketches despite the best efforts of the actors who play them.
The other husband/father, Yukari, fares better. He is an appealing character played with relish by Rirî Furankî, a colourful eccentric, shabbily dressed, perpetually ravenous and none too refined in his eating habits, handy enough to fix any broken toy, and spontaneously playful with his kids, with whom he likes to share a bath, delighting in evoking squeals of delight as he squirts mouthfuls of bathwater at them.
Perhaps a little too perfect a father, he and his loud, happy, shambolic, materially modest household veer close to idealised working class stereotype, and function primarily to provide the starkest of contrasts with Ryota and the ordered family environment he has created in his own image. One of the old breed of Japanese careerists, he works long hours and puts his company first, believing that in providing a luxurious apartment and the best money can buy, including a private school education for his son, he is fulfilling his role as father and husband.
Dismissive of the timid protests of his neglected wife, he imposes his workplace goal-orientation on Keita; play is not an option. He sees Keita’s regimented piano practice, for example, as a means to performance excellence. The little boy enjoys his repetitive tinkling, but when it becomes evident that he has no special musical talent, with some scorn Ryota tells him to quit.
Ryota is not uncaring or insensitive. He believes he is doing his best for his child, programming him for “success”. His interaction with the Saikis and their family, and the eventual swapping back of the boys to their genetic parents, force him to question his views and the values on which they are based, and set him on a painful path of self-reflection and personal change. His slow-dawning but ultimately profound realisation that in letting go of his expectations of his son(s) he is also liberating himself – and vice versa – is astutely and sensitively handled, and makes for fascinating and emotional viewing.
Like Father, Like Son has some truly exquisite moments, even if in focusing so intensely on one character Kore-eda has made some dramatic compromises. One of the best of this year’s generally excellent Perth Film Festival. Don’t miss.
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