×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Like Father, Like Son’

Hirokazu Kore-eda's reverberant drama is a characteristically low-key treatment of familial bonds, expectations and responsibilities

With:
Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Lily Franky, Yoko Maki, Keita Ninomiya, Hwang Sho-gen, Jun Kunimura, Kirin Kiki, Isao Natsuyagi, Jun Fubuki.

Reshaping a classic babies-switched-at-birth plot into a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of parenthood, Japanese helmer Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Like Father, Like Son” is a characteristically low-key but supple treatment of familial bonds, expectations and responsibilities that reverberates with heartrending impact. The age-old nature-vs.-nurture debate emerges naturally from a comparison between two very different families, but it’s the story’s intent focus on one father’s intimacy issues and redemptive transformation that makes the film so sublimely moving. Warm critical response will ensure long fest legs but, like Kore-eda’s other works, the pic will struggle to find a home beyond niche arthouse release.

Kore-eda has chosen a subject with no lack of precedents, notably in Etienne Chatillez’s “Life Is a Long, Quiet River” (1988). Yet despite its well-worn elements, “Like Father, Like Son” is still thematically of a piece with the helmer’s own films dealing with the abandonment or separation of children, “Nobody Knows” (2004) and “I Wish” (2011). As usual, the director retains his controlled style even as he moves toward a more traditional narrative mode.

The film begins with a stiff, decorous school entrance interview, during which well-groomed 6-year-old Keita (Keita Ninomiya) relates how his father, Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), taught him to fly a kite on a family camping trip. One finds out later that it was a lie drilled into the boy in preparation for the interview, and that Ryota is a driven architect who never spends time with his family. Not that he doesn’t love his docile, mousy wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), or Keita, for whom he has planned a successful future and a rigid, demanding activity sheet to help get him there.

But the Nonomiyas’ lives are turned upside down when they learn that the hospital where Midori gave birth mistakenly switched infants, so Keita actually belongs to suburban appliance storeowners Yudai and Yukari Saiki (Lily Franky and Yoko Maki) Saiki, who have unwittingly raised the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei (Hwang Sho-gen), as their own. The two families arrange gatherings for their children to mingle, and begin a trial system of exchanging the boys on weekends.

This gives rise to some gently ironic contrasts between the bourgeois Nonomiyas’ elegant but finicky lifestyle and the Saikis’ unkempt, anything-goes existence. But rather than aiming for Chatillez’s savage social satire, the class differences here are merely a natural extension of the two couples’ respectively uptight and easygoing personalities. Similarly, Kore-eda doesn’t accentuate the boys’ differences so much as show how quickly children adapt to their surroundings, as seen in some marvelously sweet scenes in which the timid, well-behaved Keita blends in with his carefree Saiki siblings and bonds with his affectionate, playful biological father, Yudai, to Ryota’s mild chagrin.

Ryota initially tries to buy off the penny-pinching Saikis so he can keep both Keita and Ryusei, but when this plan backfires, he starts heeding the counsel of his father (Isao Natsuyagi), which is that the bloodline counts more. Although the Saikis may occupy a slightly idealized portrait of a working-class household, the mannered, disciplined existence Nonomiya tries to impose on his family is clearly a veneer for his underlying vulnerability.

In typical Kore-eda fashion, it takes an accretion of small incidents, rather than any melodramatic confrontation, for Ryota to realize where his genuine affections lie. A nuanced scene in which he visits his father and stepmother, and an encounter with the nurse responsible for the swap, reveal his own childhood hangups and a poignant explanation for his adult behavior.

Singer-songwriter-thesp Fukuyama carefully tweaks his cocky intellectual persona as seen in the popular TV drama “Galileo” and its film version, “Suspect X.” Though Ryota is initially drawn as arrogant and entitled, his workaholic habits are considered the norm in Japan, as many fathers less successful than Ryota must conform to corporate culture against their wishes. A conversation between Ryota and Yudai poses the film’s central question: Is parenthood defined by blood, or by the time that parent and child spend together? The ending offers an answer at once ambiguous and strangely reassuring.

While the mannerisms of artist-writer-thesp Franky work in fitting counterpart to Fukushima’s studied perf, the two female leads display less range, and will be considered overly passive characters by Western auds. Mikiya Takimoto’s crisp lensing and beguilingly simple camera setups are complemented by the use of Bach’s Goldberg Variations to evoke a range of moods, from contemplative to light-hearted to somber. Other tech credits are polished; the Japanese title means “Then, One Becomes a Father.”

Cannes Film Review: 'Like Father, Like Son'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 17, 2013. Running time: 121 MIN. Original title: "Soshite chichi ni naru"

Production: (Japan) A Gaga (in Japan)/Le Pact (in France) release of a Fuji Television Network, Amuse, Gaga presentation of a Film Inc. production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris. Asian sales: Gaga, Tokyo.) Produced by Chihiro Kameyama, Tatsuro Hatanaka, Tom Yoda. Executive producers, Yasushi Ogawa, Chiaki Harada, Satomi Odake.

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Mikiya Takimoto; music, Junichi Matsumoto, Takashi Mori, Takeshi Matsubara; music supervisor, Shin Yasui; production designer, Keiko Mitsumatsu; set decorator, Akiko Matsuba; costume designer, Kazuko Kurosawa, Misako Kajimoto; sound (Dolby Digital), Yutaka Tsurumaki; supervising sound editor, Akihiko Okase; line producer, Yasuyuki Niino; associate producers, Megumi Osawa; assistant director, Atsushi Kaneshige; casting, Toshie Tabata.

With: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Lily Franky, Yoko Maki, Keita Ninomiya, Hwang Sho-gen, Jun Kunimura, Kirin Kiki, Isao Natsuyagi, Jun Fubuki.

More Film

  • Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as

    Jody Madden Replaces Craig Rodgerson as CEO of VFX Firm Foundry

    Jody Madden has been upped to CEO at U.K.-based VFX outfit Foundry. She steps up having been chief product officer and replaces Craig Rodgerson, who joined the company in late 2017. Foundry was bought by U.S. tech firm Roper Technologies earlier this year in a £410 million ($509 million) deal. The London-based business provides software [...]

  • The Lion King

    ‘The Lion King’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Walt Disney Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “The Lion King.” Ads placed for the remake had an estimated media value of $5.64 million through Sunday for 1,290 national ad airings on [...]

  • Beyonce poses for photographers upon arrival

    Beyoncé Releases Music Video for 'Spirit,' Her 'Lion King' Soundtrack Contribution

    Beyoncé fans are stampeding across the web veldt to get a look at her just-released music video for “Spirit,” the original song she co-wrote and sang for the “Lion King” soundtrack. The track is also included on the companion album she executive-produced and will release Friday, “The Gift.” Clips from the computer-animated film are interspersed [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez Takes Down Wall Street Crooks in New Trailer for 'Hustlers'

    According to Jennifer Lopez, basic pole dancing movements all revolve around a few foot positions. But as she tells her stripper student Constance Wu, it’s not just about the dancing. In the new trailer for “Hustlers,” Lopez and Wu swindle a number of high profile Wall Street clients in an effort to bring their white [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Writers Guild Leaders Warn Members About Contact With Fired Agents

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are warning members about being contacted by their former agents — asserting that such efforts are an attempt to undermine the WGA and its members. The missive, sent Tuesday from the WGA negotiating committee, came with the guild in a bitter three-month standoff with talent agents that appears [...]

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Apollo 11' Re-Release Set for Moon Landing Anniversary

    In today’s film news roundup, Neon is re-releasing “Apollo 11”; “Sesame Street” gets moved; “Supersize Me 2” is set for Sept. 13; Will Ropp gets a “Silk Road” deal; and Apple makes a movie deal. RE-LAUNCH Neon will re-release Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” in theaters on July 20, the 50th anniversary of the [...]

  • Michael B. JordanAFI Awards Luncheon, Los

    Michael B. Jordan's 'Just Mercy' Moves to Awards Season Slot

    Michael B. Jordan’s upcoming legal drama “Just Mercy” has been shifted forward three weeks from Jan. 17 to Dec. 25 for an Oscar-qualifying theatrical release. “Just Mercy” is based on the case of Walter McMillan, an African-American death-row prisoner who was exonerated in 1993 after being convicted five years earlier for a 1986 murder in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content