Like Father, Like Son

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Hirokazu Koreeda

Starring

Machiko Ono Masaharu Fukuyama Yôko Maki

Anticipation.

Hirokazu Koreeda is the natural heir to Yasujirō Ozu, so any new film from this great Japanese auteur is well worth getting exciting about.

Enjoyment.

At once a charming and deeply moving study of family and identity. The kids are seriously adorable too.

In Retrospect.

Another consummately crafted mediation on love, loss and life from a truly gifted storyteller.

The simple, tragicomic trails of fatherhood are captured with perfection in the latest from Japan’s Hirokazu Koreeda.

Could you continue to love a child whom you had raised as your own for six years upon finding out that they are someone else’s flesh and blood? Would you exchange kids if the opportunity presented itself? This is the impenetrably dense moral quandary at the heart of director Hirokazu Koreeda’s sublime domestic drama, Like Father, Like Son, a film that in gently plumbing the emotional depths of parenthood is the perfect antidote to Hollywood’s gratingly facetious brand of ‘baby swap’ comedy.

Ryota (pop singer-turned-actor Masaharu Fukuyama) is a problem solver. An architect by trade, every aspect of his life is a shrine to order and excellence, extending to the elegant Tokyo apartment he shares with wife Midori (Machika Ono) and their well-mannered, neatly groomed son, Keita. It’s not what you might call the homeliest of set ups – Ryota is strict and traditional – but theirs is nonetheless a happy family. That is until the day the couple receive an earth-shattering call from the local hospital.

Koreeda may well be mining a familiar thematic framework here – family bonds, nature-versus-nature, child abandonment and social class are all recurring hallmarks of his work – but the result is no less affecting. Where Like Father, Like Son differs from the Japanese director’s recent output, in particular last year’s I Wish and the earlier Still Walking and Nobody Knows, however, is in its intimate examination of personal conflict.

When things threaten to take a turn for the melodramatic after Keita’s biological parents – the comparatively down-at-heel but wholesome and loving Saikis – arrive on the scene, Koreeda shrewdly maintains a composed, understated tone, dividing his film into four seasons across which each adult will learn more about themselves than their respective counterparts. None more so that Ryota, whose paternal crisis is compounded by the numbing realisation that this is one predicament to which there is no obvious or easy solution.

A failed bid to buy the Saikis out of their parental obligations to either child initially exposes Ryota’s vulnerability in this most delicate of scenarios, but his true character and the root of his snobbish, impersonal manner are more subtly alluded to in the everyday moments between a father and his son that Koreeda is such a master at capturing. For all its warmth and the unexpectedly wry moments underpinning various key scenes – which break the awkward, slightly farcical mood with just the right dose of situational humour – Koreeda’s film is at its most tender and life-affirming when following Ryota’s redemptive arc.

Though the wider implications of the mooted trade aren’t explored as thoroughly as they could be, resulting in serious issues being left unresolved or else completely overlooked, Like Father, Like Son is a compelling, thought-provoking journey of self-reflection and -discovery that expertly riffs on universal themes.

Published 17 Nov 2013

Anticipation.

Hirokazu Koreeda is the natural heir to Yasujirō Ozu, so any new film from this great Japanese auteur is well worth getting exciting about.

Enjoyment.

At once a charming and deeply moving study of family and identity. The kids are seriously adorable too.

In Retrospect.

Another consummately crafted mediation on love, loss and life from a truly gifted storyteller.

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