Like Father Like Son – Preaching to the Papas

like-father-like-son--2THIS film was a great journey into the torment of families and the search for identity. It affirmed my view that at the base level we are all the same, driven by the same desires for familial security, the common theme of Japanese cinema.

Like Father Like Son concerns itself with affection and familial ties, a bridge between intolerance and racism because our simplest human urges remain the same. We habitually search for serenity and peace in identity and family, regardless of our ethnicity.

Hirokazu Koreeda’s film is about two families who discover that their six-year-old boys were switched at birth, and it centres on one of the fathers; a busy architect called Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) who lives with his wife Midori (Machika Ono) and their polite and neatly brushed six-year-old son Keita. Their home is a well-appointed Tokyo apartment that has had the life interior-designed out of it, and Ryota works long hours to pay for it.

When Keita registers for primary school, a blood test reveals that he is not in fact the Nonomiyas’ child, and further inquiry reveals that their biological son has been living across town with a Mr and Mrs Saiki, who own a not-all-that-busy electrician’s shop. His name is Ryusei, and the hospital suggests that the two families get to know one another and, over a period of 12 months, exchange one boy for the other.

The reaction at Cannes as it won The Jury Prize was resounding, sparking debate in the cinema unlike any film this year. What struck me most about the film was its unbending honesty to what fathers concern themselves with: Bloodlines, legacy, a sense of allowing the next generation to follow in their footsteps.

In the 21st Century it is arguable that such things concern the modern father as views towards sons are no longer rigidly dictated; Koreeda, however, deals with the idea that it survives still, but without ridiculing it. He recognises it and draws all the merits out of it, reminding us that fathers experience the same anguishes as mothers.

Many fathers put pressure on their sons to do as they did, and Ryota Nonomiya struggles with the fact that his biologically related son cannot hold chopsticks, has no acumen for the piano, and gleefully shouts, “Oh my God!” when playing video games on his Nintendo DS. Keita, the boy that was switched and grew up as a Nonomiya, was pushed into all these things, a cultural definition of the pursuit of perfection from a very early age.

It is a superb picture because it oozes with the innocence of childhood; the simple wait for dad to come home after a day at the office, and cherishing those precious hours with your paternal role model. It is a great compliment to the film that I walked out thinking more about my relationship with my own father rather than the film in itself. Personally, I regressed during the film, laughing at the simplest things like the innocence of a toddler’s smile or a wave. It was sublime, and the closest thing a film with humans as its stars will get to a wildlife documentary. Everything was stripped away, leaving only blunt but beautiful honesty.

Keita is more of a son to Nonomiya that Ryusei because of the environment he has grown up in. My favourite scene in the film is when the Nonomiyas give in and have to travel back to see Keita even though he has settled in with the Saikis and Keita runs away. When they are finally reunited, Keita’s unawareness of the reasons behind the switch and the fact that all he has ever known has been turned on its head, forces Ryota to mature and spend more time with his son than at work.

Whatever your background, you will adore this film. Already winner of one of the biggest prizes at the world’s grandest film festival, I am tipping it to win Best Film Not in the English Language at the Oscars on 2nd March 2014.

This was simply gorgeous cinema.