For six years they have raised their sons. They have shared special moments, taught them life essentials and watched them grow into their own little people. After six years of sharing and shaping a child’s life, what would you do if you were told that your child was not really yours? My review of Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる) after the jump.
Hirokazu Koreeda’s follow-up to the wonderful I Wish, Like Father Like Son played at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival where it was awarded the Jury Prize and a commendation from the Ecumenical Jury. While the idea of children being switched at birth is not a new one, the way which Koreeda handles the trope results in something quite special.
The film joins the Nonomiya family when their son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) is about to turn six. The boy is a quiet child who dutifully completes all the homework, practicing and tasks that are required to prepare him for the entrance exam into a prestigious elementary school. Keita’s father, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is an extremely successful businessman who spends most of his waking hours at work. Coming from humble beginnings, he works hard to provide for his family and move away from his past. Ryoko pushes Keita hard to study and rarely offers praise or affection, leaving that side of parenting to his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono).
When a blood test revels that Keita is not their biological son, the family are shaken to their core. Investigations discover that Keita and another child (Ryusei Saiki, played by Shôgen Hwang) were somehow switched at the rural hospital where they were born. What do the families do from here? How can they even consider giving the child they have raised away? But at the same time, how could they not demand that their biological child be returned to them? The film is not only about children switched at birth, it is also about class differences. The Nonomiya’s are a single child family who are wealthy and live in the city; while the Saiki family are shopkeepers who live in a rural area. They parent differently and have created very different lives for their sons.
Koreeda’s soft touch and gentle approach to this dramatic and emotional situation is largely why this film succeeds. He approaches the situation like an antique dealer handling a precious piece – he carefully examines it from all sides, lingering long enough to let the power or emotional pull of it soak in. There are no fast cuts or dramatic editing, it’s a very restrained film and events feel as if they play at a natural pace.
There are few writers or directors that capture children quite the way that Koreeda does. He has a way of getting such amazing performances out of such young (often first time) actors. Keita Ninomiya is an absolute heart-breaker in this film. It’s not that he cries of screams or acts like his world is falling in, it’s that he acts like a good child who is simply doing what his parents tell him. He may be scared or unhappy, but he tries to keep that in. He wants to please his father, he doesn’t want to upset is mother, he just wants to be. The way he just accepts and reacts to the changing situation is incredible.
Performances are great across the board, with Rirî Furankî particularly impressing as Keita’s biological father. It took much of the film for me to warm towards Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota, but I think that was the point. It takes some time for things to soak in, for him to let himself feel something more than anger. He is stoic, that is the Japanese way. His view-point is atypical for this type of heart-felt story, but somehow Koreeda makes it a strength.
Like Father, Like Son is a truly beautiful film from one of the most interesting Japanese film-makers currently working.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Writer(s): Hirokazu Koreeda
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yôko Maki, Keita Ninomiya, Rirî Furankî
Runtime: 121 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 17 2014