Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki
Genre: Drama/ World Cinema
Ryota Nonomiya (Fukuyama) is an extremely successful business man who has had to work hard for everything he has achieved and owns, and has tried to bring up his six year old son Keita with the same ethos, applying a firm but fair approach with little affection. However, he and wife Midori (Ono) receive news from a hospital that it has been discovered that Keita is in fact not their son, and their actual son has been brought up with a different family, who are the actually parents of Keita. With their actual son, Ryusei being brought up by a working class family that have shown far more affection than Ryota, both families are faced with not a only a life changing decision, but Ryota is left to contemplate what it truly means to be a parent.
I admit to have not seeing as many of Hirokazu Koreeda’s films as I would like, but from what I have seen is that he has a tremendous skill of taking simple stories involving very real and believable characters that could be described as slightly contrived and turning them into deeply moving examinations of human emotions. Koreeda seems to have a tremendous skill for never having to resort to clichés, schmaltz or obvious melancholy; instead his films are made with integrity and honesty, and are all the more engaging and emotionally rewarding for it. I Wish was one of my favourite films of last year and I would recommend it to anyone who is yet to see it. Whereas at the core of I Wish was the implications of the breakup of the family unit on the children, Like Father, Like Son focuses once again on the family unit, this time the core focus being on the relationship between father and son (hence the title), and the idea of nature vs. nurture. Though Ryusei is Ryota’s son by blood, does the fact that he has brought up Keita for the last six years make Keita more his son that Ryota?
All these questions and more are examined intricately throughout the narrative, making Like Father, Like Son yet another deeply engaging, involving and moving film from Koreeda. I often criticise films for being too long, but at two hours this perfectly suits the film as it gives the viewer the chance to get to know the characters slowly and intimately, in particular the complex character of Ryota. Admittedly the story is a little contrived and basic, but in my view plot contrivances are forgivable when we are given characters we truly care about, and in the case of Like Father, Like Son we truly are given this.
The contrivance of the plot and the obvious repercussions of the two parents being the polar opposite of each other do admittedly stop Like Father, Like Son from being a great film, but there is no denying the emotional involvement the film offers from some of the questions it asks. The plot is merely a tool for Koreeda to examine these poignant themes, and the importance and inevitable big decisions that have to be made of what is a potentially life changing revelation for these characters is shared by us.
At the centre of the story is superb and towering performance from Masaharu Fukuyama as Ryota. He captures perfectly Ryota’s stoicism and repressed emotions with an understated and commanding performance. Again, his character arc may be a little predictable, but Koreeda develops it in a way that it feels natural and there is no denying that the film’s final third contains some genuinely moving moments. Like Father, Like Son is perhaps not Koreeda’s best film, but an engaging and beautifully observed character study nevertheless.