Like Father, Like Son (London Film Festival 2013)
Stephen Spielberg has already snapped up the American remake rights for Like Father, Like Son, but there’s really no point: the original is so heartbreakingly poignant. Hirokazu Kore-eda, the Japanese director and writer famed for his sad family dramas, now ups the sad family tally to two.
The film’s catalyst stems from the breakdown of an “ignorance is bliss” scenario. In this case, the grenade is thrown by a hospital admitting to two families that their respective six-year-old sons were switched at birth. “We’ll stop using marker pens,” says one representative, but unsurprisingly neither family laughs.
Kore-eda examines one set of parents, particularly the father: Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukukuyama), a hardworking disciplinarian with a successful career and high standards for his progeny. “Now it all makes sense,” he says upon hearing the news, subtly referencing why his non-biological son Keita is a substandard piano player, amongst other minor failings. Tragically, Ryoto must come to terms that, in his mind, the child in their home turned into a stranger overnight.
In contrast, the less financially secure Saiki family are more playful: they bathe together, they fly kites, and the father chews his straws. The four adults have different ideas about how the situation should be handled, whether a straight swap, acknowledging some bonds are unbreakable, or perhaps a more audacious procedure. If we can semi-jokingly agree that children ruin everything, a difficult situation is embroiled with more emotional entanglements when the two sons join the argument.
The tender narrative isolates the number of relationships that occur between each parent with each other, with each child, and even with themselves. The plot is a classic “what if...?” pub question, the kind that can’t be answered sufficiently. Ultimately, it’s a lose/lose scenario, and heartbreak is inevitable.
Yet Kore-eda isn’t content with a simple tale of sadness or emotional manipulation. Some bonds prove unbreakable, and even Ryota, a cold businessman, can emotionally evolve – even if it means learning from someone of a lower status or, worst of all, chewing a straw. It’s common in films for familial love to be an unbreakable force; when relationships are undone, it’s simply devastating.
Like Father, Like Son is part of the London Film Festival’s “Official Competition” strand. Screening information can be found here.
119 mins approx