Like Father Like Son

Like Father, Like Son
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Director: Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Cert: PG
Genre: Drama
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Yōko Maki, Jun Kunimura, Machiko Ono
Running Time: 1 hr 36 mins

It's hard not to avoid mention of Ozu, when discussing the latest, deeply moving film from Hirokazu Kore-eda. Both directors access a class of sadness you rarely encounter outside the cinema of Japan. Both are interested in family life. But, in Like Father, Like Son, the director takes an unexpected swerve from Ozu's quiet naturalism towards surprisingly mainstream melodrama. Whisper it cautiously. The director of the more off-centre Still Walking has embarked upon something of a high concept picture. What would happen if two couples – years after discovering they left hospital with each other's babies – were asked to switch their children? You couldn't call Kore-eda's development of the scenario particularly subtle. One couple (dad Ryota in particular) is well-off, striving and emotionally unavailable: they press their son into piano lessons and seem to have his entire professional career planned out. The other couple is working-class, happy-go- lucky and uninhibited: no opportunity for fun is spurned. There is a worrying amount of material here for a clumsy American remake.

Yet, for all its manipulative tendencies, the film never dips into naked sentimentality. Largely seen from the perspective of the better-off family, Like Father, Like Son (a poor English-language title, incidentally) allows in many small tragedies. The largest of these hangs around Ryota's terrible realisation that he may end up losing two sons: the one he sired and the one he raised. A great humanist, Kore-eda persuades us to sympathise with the driven businessman even as he constructs amoral plots to discredit his good-hearted rivals. All are as we are.

Always a great director of actors, Kore-eda draws particularly impressive turns from the two children. Buffeted by forces they can’t comprehend, the boys manage to be simultaneously robust and vulnerable throughout. One might question whether, in real life, people often face up to their imperfections as Ryota eventually does. But the picture’s emotional heft cannot be ignored.

Oh, and, yes, just last week it was announced that Steven Spielberg will be developing a remake.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist