By Simon Miraudo
May 1, 2014
Cultures collide oh so gently in Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s Like Father Like Son, a Japanese drama that examines its cavernous, local class divide thoughtfully and tenderly, much like Iran’s A Separation before it. DreamWorks has already snapped up the rights for an American remake, after founder Steven Spielberg spied it at Cannes in 2013 (where it won the Jury Prize). But to those waiting for the subtitle-free version to arrive: don’t. Like Father Like Son should be seen through its native prism first. The characters and their experiences are distinctly foreign, and yet totally familiar. Movies like this are a panacea for prejudice.
When well-to-do couple Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori (Machiko Ono) are informed their six-year-old son is not actually a blood descendant – their real baby having been swapped at the hospital with that of lower-class pair’s, Yukari (Yôko Maki) and Yudai (Rirî Furankî) – their once-perfect family unit suddenly feels misshapen. The prideful Ryota, appreciating blood above all else, takes the news as a good excuse as to why he’s never truly felt connected to his son Nobuko (Jun Fubuki), toying with the idea of a trade despite Midori’s objections. He then isolates himself further by condescending to his counterparts – who happily home-school their children in the flat above their small business – and offering to take in both boys, hedging his bets on which son will be a more fitting heir.
Fukuyama (a singer-songwriter) communicates Ryota’s alien actions with great subtlety, making what seems monstrous appear at least somewhat understandable. Writer-director Kore-eda does well to not judge his subjects, despite dragging them through this punishing scenario. Each actor impresses, from Fukuyama’s goofy mirror Furankî, to wounded mothers Ono and Maki, to the impossibly talented child actors (Fubuki and Shôgen Hwang), with Kore-eda’s camera always spatially reminding us of the chasms between man and woman, young and old, poor and rich, with balletic ease.
Like Father Like Son is not some gruelling parent trap, intent on prodding mums and dads into loving and holding their children more (though it’ll probably have that effect). It finds plenty of humour in its unconventional, newly-expanded modern family. And, unlike a certain TV show, manages to be emotionally wrenching without having to provide a mawkish voiceover tying everything up in its final few minutes.
Like Father Like Son is now showing in cinemas.