Like Father, Like Son (PG)
Hirokazu Koreeda | Japan| 2014 | 120 mins | PG
‘Like Father, Like Son‘ by Hirozaku Koreeda is a contemplative, intelligent and refined film. It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and is a story of a father and son, of Ryota and Nobuko Nonomiya.
Koreeda’s films usually start with a dramatic event that, in lesser hands, could resolve into corny melodrama or fantasy. He has used abandoned children (‘Nobody Knows‘), life after death (‘After Life‘) and a doll coming to life (‘Air Doll‘) as catalysts for realisation, and has then calmly charted that realisation in a documentary style. Koreeda’s first film was a documentary – the spontaneous celebration of the life of a cow.
The catalyst in ‘Like Father, Like Son‘ is explored in the most cursory and perplexing of ways. This partly reflects Japanese character, but is mainly a device that enables Koreeda to focus on its effect on Ryota, almost to the exclusion of everyone else. Ryota develops and grows in response to it. The others respond oddly or in a muted or stereotypical way. Koreeda explains that in his films he hopes to,
“show the things in our daily lives that seem banal and ordinary, but are actually very, very special. Maybe it requires some kind of major event – to see those things we often overlook”.
Most interestingly, Koreeda admitted he based Ryota partly on himself, looking at his own relationship with his daughter; at his own preoccupation with work. This personal and heartfelt lament is apparent and powerful throughout the film.
Without spoiling the film, there are various themes throughout that give us pause for thought. These are nature and nurture, the Japanese family and class system; particularly in the context of the largely absent ‘salaryman’ father, whether children or parents ever satisfy one another and families through time. Little is revealed through dialogue; you have to watch the action. Track the camera. The Nonomiyas descend a spiral staircase. There is an abrupt cut – a portent of bad things to come. Watch particularly for times when children can overhear adults’ conversations.
Fukuyama plays the Tiger Father, Ryota with great subtlety. He makes what seems monstrous somewhat understandable. He cannot see the impact of his disregard on his wife and child and indeed one wonders whether he has the emotional capacity to bond with them, once you see his own father. He does develop through this film, but overall it is the children who learn and teach so much. The child actors are terrific, as well they might be. Koreeda auditioned over 500 children before he found the right ones.
This film’s content and presentation is subtle beyond imagining given its theme. Symmetrical framing, changes in perspective from those of a child to an adult and the musical pacing underline the alien and staged quality of the relationships within it. If you are interested in the technical aspects of film, you will recognise many beautifully calibrated scenes. You may also spot the repeated motif of Bach’s Goldberg’s Variations that reflect the ‘peas in a pod’ idea of like father, like son.
Spielberg bought the screen re-make rights. One can only imagine what any re-make might be like.