Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes Review of Like Father Like Son

The latest film from the director of After Life and I Wish is triumphantly moving.

Fri, May 17, 2013, 22:10




Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda

Starring Masaharu Fukuyama, Yōko Maki, Jun Kunimura, Machiko Ono, Kirin Kiki, Isao Natsuyagi

In competition, 120 min

The bookies probably still have Asghar Fahadi’s The Past ahead in the race for the Palme d’Or. But the warm audience response given to the latest film from Hirokazu Kore-Eda suggests that the Japanese wizard may stand a sporting chance of taking home the trophy on Sunday week. The film is not always subtle. Indeed, there is nothing in the structure or tone to dispel fears of a lachrymose Hollywood remake. But it manages to be properly sad in a way that only Japanese film-makers manage.

Like Father Like Son follows the story of two couples who, when their children are starting elementary school, discover that the tykes were switched shortly after their birth. Contact is made and they face up to an impossible moral quandary: do they hold on to the boys they have nurtured or switch the children and attempt to reboot family life?

In less careful hands, the crude binary contrast between families would seem unbearable. Ryota and Midori are well-off, buttoned-up and blinkered in their ambitions. Yukari and Yudai are free-spirited, lower middle-class and generous with emotion. At first Ryota, a businessman who has made little time for his child, plots furiously to grab hold of both children. He sniffs at the other family’s apparent recklessness. But, once the decision has been made, he begins to understand the flaws in his outlook.

So, yes, it is all a bit Cat’s in the Cradle. And regular outbreaks of Bach’s Goldberg Variations — the second most overused piece of music in cinema after Samuel Barber’s Adagio — add to the suspicion that we may be at home to cheese. Nothing could be further from the truth. A master manipulator posing as an art-house realist, Hirokazu nudges his cast towards performances that swell with honesty and integrity. After suffering through a wash of nihilism in the Official Competition so far, it is a pleasure to experience a film-maker so at home to big-hearted humanism. Shooting in unhurried style in a sedate palette, he demonstrates an affection for people — and for children in particular — that is going out of fashion in high-end art-house cinema. Ozu had it. So does Miyazaki. Hirokazu Kore-Eda looks set to gain a seat beside those masters.

Our favourite film in the competition to date.