Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Like Father, Like Son

Parents learn that their six-year-old sons were switched at birth in a searing drama from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Jan 16, 2014

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1392798-Like_Father_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Few directors are as adept with children as Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda. In Like Father, Like Son he elicits a stunningly naturalistic performance from Keita Ninomiya, who plays the six-year-old son of well-to-do parents. In a detached, almost clinical style, the movie reaches troubling conclusions about what it means to be a parent. But it is Keita's quiet, determined personality that makes the strongest impression here.

Kore-eda's screenplay starts from real-life incidents in which babies were switched at birth in hospitals. Adopting a matter-of-fact tone, he examines the legal and social consequences of a case involving architect Ryota Nonomiya (Fukuyama Masaharu), his wife Midori (Ono Machiko), and their son Keita.

A workaholic, Ryota is also a stern disciplinarian, yet leaves most of the burden of raising Keita to the mild-mannered Midori. Keita copes with a demanding school schedule, but never does quite well enough to satisfy his father.

The news that Keita isn't their biological child raises perplexing issues. Keita's real parents, Yukari Saiki (Maki Yoko) and his wife Yudai (Lily Franky), run a small appliance shop in a rundown neighborhood while raising three children. Ryusei (Hwang Sho-gen), their eldest, is actually the Nonomiyas' son.

Kore-eda gradually expands the story, adding lawyers, teachers, hospital officials, and Ryota's father and Midori's mother. They offer pointed opinions about parenting, like, "For horses and humans, it's all about bloodlines." Much of Kore-eda's dialogue is uncharacteristically blunt, and too many of his scenes feel like textbook examples from a social experiment.

Still, Like Father, Like Son raises questions no one can answer. How can Midori stop loving a child she has raised for six years? How can Ryota accept someone else's son as his own? How will Keita respond to being abandoned by his parents? The Nonomiyas and the Saikis both try to adjust to their changed circumstances, but the weight of their decisions becomes unbearable.

Kore-eda plays these scenes out in an almost documentary fashion, trusting in his performers rather than resorting to sentimental tactics. The camera moves calmly, pinning the characters in carefully composed frames. Kore-eda's editing is deliberate but also non-judgmental. Even the soundtrack, with its passages from Bach's "Goldberg Variations," appeals more to the intellect than to emotions.

Like Father, Like Son might seem too deliberate or challenging for mainstream viewers, but those willing to adjust to Kore-eda's approach will be rewarded by a movie that delves deeply into some of the central issues in our society. (And if you can't, DreamWorks bought the rights for an English-language version. It will be fascinating to see Hollywood's take on the subject.) Like Father, Like Son won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and both best picture and best director at December's Asia-Pacific Festival.


Film Review: Like Father, Like Son

Parents learn that their six-year-old sons were switched at birth in a searing drama from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Jan 16, 2014

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1392798-Like_Father_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Few directors are as adept with children as Japan's Hirokazu Kore-eda. In Like Father, Like Son he elicits a stunningly naturalistic performance from Keita Ninomiya, who plays the six-year-old son of well-to-do parents. In a detached, almost clinical style, the movie reaches troubling conclusions about what it means to be a parent. But it is Keita's quiet, determined personality that makes the strongest impression here.

Kore-eda's screenplay starts from real-life incidents in which babies were switched at birth in hospitals. Adopting a matter-of-fact tone, he examines the legal and social consequences of a case involving architect Ryota Nonomiya (Fukuyama Masaharu), his wife Midori (Ono Machiko), and their son Keita.

A workaholic, Ryota is also a stern disciplinarian, yet leaves most of the burden of raising Keita to the mild-mannered Midori. Keita copes with a demanding school schedule, but never does quite well enough to satisfy his father.

The news that Keita isn't their biological child raises perplexing issues. Keita's real parents, Yukari Saiki (Maki Yoko) and his wife Yudai (Lily Franky), run a small appliance shop in a rundown neighborhood while raising three children. Ryusei (Hwang Sho-gen), their eldest, is actually the Nonomiyas' son.

Kore-eda gradually expands the story, adding lawyers, teachers, hospital officials, and Ryota's father and Midori's mother. They offer pointed opinions about parenting, like, "For horses and humans, it's all about bloodlines." Much of Kore-eda's dialogue is uncharacteristically blunt, and too many of his scenes feel like textbook examples from a social experiment.

Still, Like Father, Like Son raises questions no one can answer. How can Midori stop loving a child she has raised for six years? How can Ryota accept someone else's son as his own? How will Keita respond to being abandoned by his parents? The Nonomiyas and the Saikis both try to adjust to their changed circumstances, but the weight of their decisions becomes unbearable.

Kore-eda plays these scenes out in an almost documentary fashion, trusting in his performers rather than resorting to sentimental tactics. The camera moves calmly, pinning the characters in carefully composed frames. Kore-eda's editing is deliberate but also non-judgmental. Even the soundtrack, with its passages from Bach's "Goldberg Variations," appeals more to the intellect than to emotions.

Like Father, Like Son might seem too deliberate or challenging for mainstream viewers, but those willing to adjust to Kore-eda's approach will be rewarded by a movie that delves deeply into some of the central issues in our society. (And if you can't, DreamWorks bought the rights for an English-language version. It will be fascinating to see Hollywood's take on the subject.) Like Father, Like Son won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and both best picture and best director at December's Asia-Pacific Festival.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

PK
Film Review: PK

An alien trying to return home tangles with religious authorities in a low-key Bollywood message drama. More »

A Small Section
Film Review: A Small Section of the World

Worthy but uninvolving documentary about the coffee-producing women of Costa Rica. More »

Sagrada
Film Review: Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation

The fabulous 130-year work-in-progress that is Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral, as well as its crazy-brilliant originator, Antonio Gaudi, is the focus of this vividly informative documentary. More »

Inside the Mind of Leonardo
Film Review: Inside the Mind of Leonardo in 3D

Documentary-feature hybrid that offers unexpected insight into the world of Leonardo da Vinci, but nonetheless suffers from a heavy hand and pretentious sensibility. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Into the Woods
Film Review: Into the Woods

Over-scaled, too dark and only intermittently charming Sondheim musical adaptation does a disservice to a great cast and is often so noisy you can't even appreciate the music. More »

The H obbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After rewriting the rules for modern fantasy cinema, for the better and worse, Peter Jackson’s six-film Tolkien saga slams, bangs and shudders to a long-overdue conclusion. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here