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Like Father, Like Son

Like Father, Like SonDirected by Kore-eda Hirokazu
Starring Fukuyama Masaharu, Ono Machiko

Nature versus nurture is perhaps one of the most age-old debates of science, but on which side lies the heart? Like Father, Like Son tells of the Nonomiyra family as they find out that they were given the wrong child at the hospital, six years ago. Businessman Ryota (Fukuyama Masaharu) and his gentle wife Midori (Ono Machiko) must decide whether they will swap the child that they are raising for the child that is genetically theirs. Is it your blood or your upbringing that truly makes your son?

With Dreamworks having acquired the remake rights to this film, it’s probably worth catching this work in its undiluted form. Writer and director Kore-eda Hirokazu brings us a subtle treatment of a subject that could all to easily fall to melodrama. Gentle and deliberate, Kore-eda uses a pared-back style to bring us an examination of what it means to be a parent in modern Japan, prioritising work-life balance and expectations, as well as issues of status and class.

Key to this presentation are the performances of Fukuyama Masaharu and Ono Machiko. Both of them pitch towards a reserved stoicism in their acceptance of the situation and attempts to deal with it. This is not to say they are emotionless, but rather don’t tend towards the histrionics that many family dramas can gravitate towards. Fukuyama’s performance clearly demonstrates his character’s hard edge as a businessman that has had to rely on hard work and drive to lift himself out of a mediocre background. As such, his callous and occasionally unrealistic expectations are given more grounding, as are his revaluation of them as he examines what it actually means to be a father. Ono is the counterweight to this as a gentle and doting mother, yet again there is another layer. Midori’s love is undoubtedly with their first son, and not only is she cold and distant to their  birth son, but in one beautifully staged scene considers drastic action to retain him.

With parenthood (especially fatherhood) as the major theme it is little wonder we see it dissected and portrayed in a number of ways. Ryota bears it like a responsibility, but is allowed one or two scenes of genuine warmth and affection with his son (which allow an emotional payoff later in the film). His relationship with his own father is strained, but he has formed a bond with his corporate mentor. By contrast, the other family affected by the hospital mix up (the rather rural Saiki) might not be guaranteeing their children’s future through academic advancement courses, but actually make time to play with them.

Deliberate and heartwarming, Like Father, Like Son takes what could so easily be midday movie fare and treats it with intelligence and compassion.  Little wonder it was commended by the Cannes jury last year and caught Spielberg’s eye.

DAVID O’CONNELL

Like Father, Like Son screens as part of the Lotterywest Festival Films season at Somerville from March 21 – April 6 and at Joondalup Pines from April 8 – 13. For more details, head to perthfestival.com.au.

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