Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Movie Review: Life Father, Like Son

Like Father, Like Son
Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda.
Written by: Hirokazu Koreeda.
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama (Ryota Nonomiya), Machiko Ono (Midori Nonomiya), Yôko Maki (Yukari Saiki), Rirî Furankî (Yudai Saiki), Jun Fubuki (Nobuko Nonomiya), Keita Ninomiya (Keita Nonomiya), Shôgen Hwang (Ryusei Saiki), Jun Kunimura (Kazushi Kamiyama), Isao Natsuyagi (Ryosuke Nonomiya).

As a parent, the movie Like Father Like Son represents a nightmare scenario. What if after 6 years of raising a child, you suddenly found out that your child was switched at the hospital – so that the son you thought was yours, was really someone else’s. It is a horrible scenario – and one that if it were true for me, I would never want to find out about. My girls are my girls, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. The film, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda is a well observed film that seems like it’s heading towards some standard issue conflict, but is really deeper than that. The real question of the film is what does it really mean to be a good father. It’s a haunting question, and one that has stayed with me since the end credits rolled in the film.

The setup for Like Father, Like Son may seem a little too obvious. Two families are told that there 6 year old sons are not their biological children. The hospital wants to make things right, and avoid the inevitable lawsuit. The two families – one wealthy, one poor – start hanging out together, and their different values become clear. The rich father, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) thinks that perhaps it is possible for him and his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) to raise both boys. After all, they cannot have any more children, and have lots of excess money. The poorer family has three other children, and the father Yudai (Riri Furanki) seems like a perpetual man child – someone who has a lot of dreams of money, but no real follow through.

You probably think you know where the movie is going, but I was surprised by the direction the film took. At first everything feels a little too clichéd – with the rich father being able to give his son everything, except real love. In an early scene his son is an interview for a new school, and makes up a story about the family camping together – something his `cram teacher` told him to say to create an illusion of a close knit family. The poorer father may not be able to give his son all the material things the other father can, but at least his children don’t have to lie to have warm memories of their time with their father.

But as the film moves along, things get more complicated that the initial setup suggests. Ryota is not just the career driven, rich asshole he at first appears to be – and as his childhood snaps into focus, much of his behavior starts to make sense – even if the movie doesn’t excuse that behavior. It’s a credit to the subtle performance by Fukuyama that his Ryota doesn’t sink to the level of pure asshole, even if that’s what much of his behavior suggests.

Koreeda has been compared to Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu – and I don’t think any of his films more warrant the comparison than this film. Like Ozu’s best films, it is an intimately observed family drama – a film that in lesser hands could become little more than a sappy melodrama, but in Koreeda’s hands becomes something much deeper and richer. It is a moving film – the final scenes in the movie are heartbreaking and true. Like Father, Like Son is not an easy film for any parent to watch – it really is one of the worst nightmares a parent can go through – and while the film isn’t perfect (the poorer family is seen almost entirely in broad strokes for example) it is still an excellent one. It is one of Koreeda`s best films to date. See it now before the American remake does all the things that this films so scrupulously avoids.

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