VOD film review: Like Father, Like Son
James R | On 10, May 2014
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yôko Maki
“Now it all makes sense.”
That’s Ryota’s (Fukuyama) reaction when doctors tell him that six-year-old Keita is not his son. It’s shocking, sad news for the successful businessman and his wife, Midori (Ono) – and that’s just the start of an emotional 120 minutes.
Keita, it turns out, is actually the child of another couple: a shopkeeper, Mr Saiki, and his wife. Their son is called Ryusei. He’s Ryota’s offspring. The revelation sets off a slow chain reaction that leads to some coldly logic questions for the quartet: Do they swap back? And, for Ryusei’s less well-off guardians, how much can they get in damages?
Hirokazu Koreeda’s drama is careful not to judge, dealing out the flaws evenly between the parents. Ryota is a serious man who works all the time – but provides a home worthy of a hotel with everything a child could need. Mr Saiki, on the other hand, is incapable of providing financial support – but he knows how to fly a kite and fix toy robots, and drops everything to spend time and muck about with his boy.
The difference between the dads boils down to class as well as character, a social divide that hammers home the divergent paths the children have ahead of them. Who should they go with? Who do they take after? And does it really matter?
The adults wear their anguish with believable restraint, but the children bring the emotional clout; Keita’s wide-eyed acceptance of the prospect of separation is tremendously moving. All the while, Koreeda picks out small details to explore the themes of nature and nurture: Ryusei chews on drinking straws, just like his dad, and Keita and his father both enjoy taking photos. But there are tiny differences too: Keita isn’t interested in learning piano, despite Ryota’s encouragement, yet when he was a boy, we discover, he gave up lessons too.
With the fathers keen to continue their family line, the story goes from heartbreaking to heartwarming as bonds are strengthened between the grown-ups and their offspring. But where another director might leave events there, Koreeda continues following the tale. The result is a fantastic family drama that feels closer to documentary than fiction. One scene where Masaharu Fukuyama’s formal facade breaks down is devastating – only matched by the sight of Keita’s face crumpling in the rear view mirror as his dad drives away; like father, like son.