English Title: Like Father, Like Son
Original Title: Soshite chichi ni naru
Director/Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda
Music: Takeshi Matsubara, Junichi Matsumoto, Takashi Mori
Cinematography: Mikiya Takimoto
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON, a switch-at-birth family drama, concocted at the hands of Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda, this Cannes Jury Prize winner, unsurprisingly, is a slow-burn heart-warmer that transmutes its dramatic ethical selling point into an illuminating lesson of how to better oneself as a father.
Two families, the Nonomiyas and the Saikis, elitist versus plebeian, find their respective six-year-old sons are switched at birth in the hospital, and face the ineluctably tectonic decision of whether switching back their kids or remaining the status quo.
Forgoing an even-steven tactic, Koreeda unyieldingly sets the focus point in the Nonomiya family, namely the father Ryoto (Fukuyama), an aspiring corporate employee, living with his meek wife Midori (Ono) and their son Keita (Ninomiya, a doe-eyed cutie) in an anonymous high-rise apartment, whose winner-takes-it-all precept conforms to the mainstream values of our contemporary world, not to mention the cutting-edge Japanese society, where independence and impersonality strike sharp in contrast with populace’s overt superficial courtesy.
It is a ghost of relief upon receiving the earth-shattering tidings that betrays Ryoto’s mild disappointment in Keita’s quiet make-up, and a schism with Midori (who confesses that Keita’s tender personality takes after her) materializes but never over-boiled. Like father, like son, Koreeda perceptively burrows into the cause and effect pattern through Ryoto’s father Ryosuke (Natsuyagi, who passed away shortly before the film’s premier in 2013), whose broken marriage and bloodline-first attitude allude to Ryoto’s own upbringing, and point up the film’s most valuable message: a defiance to the patriarchal conformity.
On the other side of bargain is the easy-going Saiki family, Yudai (Franky) and Yukai (Maki), who runs a small store and have 3 kids, Ryusei (Hwang), their oldest son, is actually Ryoto and Midori’s biological son. Although Koreeda allocates less time for them, yet it is understandable, because there is no major sea change is instigated (save the initial shock of course), they have no discrimination between the two boys, welcoming Keita as well as respecting Ryoto’s decision of swapping, first tentatively only on Saturdays, then a permanent one. The classism undertow is smolderingly approached, and slowly gives way to mutual resignation, until tacit admiration when the Saikis’ more organic, spending-your-time-with-your-kids philosophy gets the better of Ryoto.
Koreeda is a sublime maestro who can patiently elicit a profound humbleness out of his workaday story and disarming cast, on the strength of his meticulously orchestrated compositions and lights, more often than not, in company with consummate music choices, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON is no exception, star Masaharu Fukuyama staggeringly sheds his pop-idol halo and puts his internal conflict through an empathetic wringer, and even during the mawkish crunch (that camera revelation) a priori, he is compelling enough to register an understated catharsis which sustains the film’s high potency of compassion and restraint. Lily Franky makes for a perfect counterexample as Yudai, holds his own against a snooty Ryoto and engages an unstrained chemistry with the kid actors, but never flaunts his contentment in the latter’s face. The interactions between two wives are less definitive, but Maki makes her mark in establishing Yukai as a pillar in the household, not an appendage to her husband.
Finally, apropos of the sensitive treatment of the motive behind the swapping, Koreeda eschews any conspiracy theory or accident, but plumps for a more chilling spur-of-the-moment act goaded by the green-eyed monster, a pungent grace note scrupulously reminds us the miasma festering in today’s modern society.
companion pieces: Koreeda’s MABOROSI (1995, 7.3/10), STILL WALKING (2008, 8.0/10), NOBODY KNOWS (2004, 8.6/10)