Like Father Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2013) – Like Father, Like Son is the kind of story that runs the full gamut of human emotions.
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda revisits his ongoing preoccupation with family dynamics and parent-child relationships in contemporary Japan with this fascinating look at nature vs. nurture. The life of workaholic architect Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is one of comfort and quietly ordered affluence with his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) and son Keita (Keita Ninomiya). That domestic bliss is violently uprooted when hospital administrators reveal that Keita is not his biological son. His real son has been raised in the dishevelled but warm-hearted home of working-class shopkeeper Yudai (Lily Franky) and his wife (Yôko Maki).
A little slight at times and often trying too hard to tug at the heartstrings, it’s still an ultimately fascinating look culture, parenthood, and class difference. Koreeda, who is obviously a master at slow burning drama, lets the narrative unfold at a very deliberate but effective pace roping viewers into the mindset and thinking of these parents. It’s not an overwhelming film. It’s very calmly shot allowing the audience take in the surroundings of these unique characters navigating this unique situation.
While Koreeda has never been one for obvious exposition filled dialogue, it also avoids any unnecessary and obvious external conflicts. It stays focused even as it leans into more of a traditional type of story when bureaucracy rears its ugly head. The film doesn’t play in big flourishes but in smaller moments that pile up until they are too much to bear.
Japanese pop star Fukuyama delivers a tender that shows what it means to be a father and not just a provider. His driven turn as Ryota highlights the societal issues that these people have to grapple with in the face such a horrendous mistake. Ono matches him as his wife turn with both playing dramatic confusion well opposite each other. The adorably working class home of the other parents in this equation, played by Franky and Maki make for the perfect polar opposites of the tightly buttoned down Ryota and Midori, and the child actors bring something unique and naturalistic to it all. These actors manage to convey a wide range of big emotions without venturing into broad histrionics making it all the more impactful.
Ultimately, Koreeda has had films with more of an emotional wallop, but even in the quieter moments, Like Father, Like Son still gets the job done and deserves to be seen before the proposed Spielberg remake potentially screws up all this beautifully raw cinematic emotion.
Sadly there are no special features on this DVD release. (Dave Voigt)