Award-winning Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda lights up this year’s London Film Festival with Like Father, Like Son (2013), a closely-observed family drama which delves into contemporary Japanese life and, in the process, becomes an examination of social values and class. Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a born winner – a successful, work-obsessed architect living in Tokyo who provides his family with a plush apartment and all the mod-cons but has little time to actually spend with them. His wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), makes do as they provide for Keita, their adorable six-year-old son (pictured below).
Ryota and Midori world, however, is turned upside down when the hospital where Keita was born contacts them with some devastating news. There was a mix-up at the time and their actual son is being raised by a similarly-deluded family of shopkeepers in another part of town. Both families are faced with the dilemma of whether to keep their respective children or swap them. What is more important – blood or affection? The other family offers an alternative version of the more familiar Japanese stereotype of worker ants subsuming their personal affections in pursuit of careers and official success. Instead, Yudai (Lily Franky) is a bit of a scruffy layabout, whose favourite life motto is “Put off until tomorrow everything you can”.
The slovenly Yudai is immediately attracted to the possibility of making some money from the hospital’s mistake in the form of compensation and gorges on the free lunches, but he’s also a more natural father: devoted to his children, playing with them and finding time that he isn’t wasting on work to muck about with them and fly kites. He’s also a humorous presence compared to the stern formality of Ryota. Despite their poverty, the home Yudai and his wife have provided for their children is a lively, warm place of skinned-knees and unhygienic giggling, in complete contrast to the antiseptic sparseness of Ryota’s apartment – which everyone compares to a hotel room.
There’s great wit and warmth to Like Father, Like Son and although the journey Ryota has to take occasionally treads a familiar – dare we say Spielbergian (remember Hook) – path, there are enough moments of genuine pathos and humour to carry the occasional flimsiness of the conceit in interesting and novel directions. Its remarkable premise works almost as a thought-experiment and Kore-eda’s latest serves as a welcome addition to a filmography that, along with 1998’s After Life, Still Walking (2008) and I Wish (2011), is both meditative and moving.
The 66th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 15-27 May, 2013. For more of our Cannes 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.