Thursday, 24 October 2013

Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Koreeda)

Only 8 months after the enchanting childhood wonder of I Wish, we in the UK are treated to another offering from exceptional Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda. His latest is a more contemplative affair that looks at the age-old Jungian argument of nature versus nurture, as two families must deal with the painstaking reality that their 6 year old sons were mistakingly swapped at birth.

Like Father, Like Son beautifully looks at childhood from the ground up as well as from above. The situation these two families find themselves in is an intricate crisis that seems unsolvable and the adults, most notably Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), must revaluate their lives and measure the impacts of their own upbringings. Is blood truly thicker than water? Or is this a dying notion in our modern times? 

Ryota is a discernibly strict father from the offset, his treatment of his son (and wife) is emotionally austere while he believes he's simply loving from a distance. He believes in determination and an intense work ethic in order to succeed in life, succeed but perhaps not enjoy. His wife Midori - a sweet but subservient partner - doesn't help matters either as Ryota's stern parental hand is rarely challenged. She is told by her husband that they can't both spoil their son when defending his remove, however it soon shows that the highly arrogant father figure may be the most indulged.

Ryota's arrogance is fully revealed when the two families, after being approached by the hospital to reveal the delicate matter, must begin to mingle to acquaint their biological sons while deciding on a course of action. The families are world's apart in class with contrasting parental approaches that the competitive, wealthy Ryota takes to condescend. As the scenario becomes increasingly painful as everyone must deal with gargantuan loss, it's Ryota who must come to terms with his place as a father and his failings. His world view is opened up through the trauma as he analyses the consequences of his own stern childhood.

Within the formal constraints of this strain of Japanese filmmaking, it harbours deep emotions that only reveal more in the final segments while remaining dormant for the most part. This emotionally restrained material gels seamlessly with Koreeda's direction; a kind of majestic minimalism that he creates (and has come to proficient in) without the two cancelling each other out. The high level of naturalism within the drama also counter balances the sentimental piano score, the mix here is marvellously in tune. The true definition of classical cinema.

There are moments of true beauty and quiet suffering throughout the picture; when Ryota visits the nurse who admitted to the not so accidental swapping, he comes face to face with her stepson. The scene, as with others, marks a massive turning point yet is so honestly judged and handled so delicately we're reminded that we're watching a master storyteller at the top of his game.

Koreeda is perhaps the true successor to Yasujiro Ozu, no small fulfilment given the extensive treatment the master classicist gave to Japanese familial relations. But with his Still Walking and now with Like Father Like Son he has proven that with the same astute eye there is much to be explored and revealed. 

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