We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.
Soshite Chichi ni Naru / Like Father, Like Son, 2013
Prix du Jury -Hirokazu Kore-eda
Every film by Hirokazu Kore-eda that I have watched has made me cry. His films manage to provoke such a response from me that I can’t quite control my emotions and often end up a blubbering wreck.
Last year’s Shoplifters was easily my favourite film of 2018. I cried so hard during the screening that the woman in front of me actually turned around to inquire if I was alright. There were tears trickling down her cheeks as well. We exchanged a small smile to one and another, comforted by the fact that we weren’t alone in our emotional response to the film.
Kore-eda’s films are an emotional punch to the senses, but they never feel too overly sentimental. Instead, his films are grounded in a sense of realism. Kore-eda’s films often play out slowly, spanning over several months. We witness how certain events are affecting the characters in his films.
In the case of Like Father, Like Son the film is set out over a period of months, as both families adapt to their new structure and new addition to their family. Events unfold in a natural way, and even when certain information is revealed, the film never becomes melodramatic or overemotional. Kore-eda is a restrained filmmaker, who allows moments to breathe.
“Kore-eda’s films are an emotional punch to the senses, but they never feel too overly sentimental. Instead, his films are grounded in a sense of realism.”
Like Father, Like Son has a set up that we have seen many times before. Two families who are of different social and economic classes discover that they have been raising the wrong son. The boys were swapped at birth, and both sets of parents must reach a conclusion on what to do with the boys.
Rather than make a big fuss about the court case with the parents going up against the hospital where the boys were born, Kore-eda decides to focus on the relationship between these two sets of parents and each boy. Ultimately, it comes down to the age old question, is blood thicker than water?
The film opens with an introduction to Keita (Keita Ninomiya) being questioned for a place at a prestigious school. Keita is the six year old son of Ryōta Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), a successful businessman. Ryōta is so focused on his job that he neglects Keita and his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono).
Ryōta is often strict towards Keita, especially when it comes to the boy’s piano practice. There is an unexplained distance between the father and son. The reason becomes clear when Midori receives a phone call from the hospital asking the couple to attend, due to an important matter.
They quickly learn that their biological son Ryūsei (Shôgen Hwang) was switched with Keita at birth. DNA tests prove the error, and they must now make a life-changing decision to either keep Keita, or exchange him for their biological son, Ryūsei. The couple also meet the other set of parents, Yukari (Yōko Maki)and Yūdai Saiki (Lily Franky). The Saiki household is completely different to the Nonomiya’s.
“Every time I watch a Kore-eda film, it feels like a good therapy session. At the end of his films we feel like we have grown alongside these characters.”
Whereas Ryōta is formal towards his ‘son’, Yūdai acts like his children’s best friend. Yūdai and Yūdai are also keen to make some money from this mishap, and wish to sue the hospital. Of course, money won’t fix the problem, and the two families must make a difficult, life changing decision.
The film explores the role of a father in a child’s development and the importance of having a good bond between father and son. Ryōta may be able to offer financial security due to his high paid job, but money can’t buy happiness. Keita is a lonely child who wishes he had a younger sibling to play with. However, Midori is unable to have any more children.
The Saiki’s may seem dysfunctional at first with their cramped, disorganised home and their lack of discipline. However, their children seem happy, and full of life compared to Keita. Kore-eda seems to enjoy the idea of the family unit being slightly dysfunctional to outsiders, and rather than see this as a weakness, Kore-eda sees it as a strength.
“Kore-eda is an empathetic director who understands the power of human interaction.”
Each performance is sublime, with both Franky and Fukuyama practically noteworthy. Franky was the head of the dysfunctional family in Shoplifters, and he is just as charming and eccentric in Like Father, Like Son. When he smiles and laughs, you cannot help but do the same.
However, it is the two young boys who are a cut above the rest. Both Hwang and Ninomiya bring a sense of authenticity to their performances. These are not trained actors and as a result they seem so real and genuine. They act just like ordinary, normal children, bringing so much energy to the screen.
Kore-eda is an empathetic director who understands the power of human interaction. His films may never seem to be ‘big’ but they deal with very important issues on a grand scale. Every time I watch a Kore-eda film, it feels like a good therapy session. At the end of his films we feel like we have grown alongside these characters and as a result we have become better people. May he continue to make films because he is an auteur with a distinct voice in cinema.