Sunday, January 19, 2014

Review: Like Father, Like Son

Image courtesy of Sundance Selects.
I typically avoid using the word gentle to describe a film or a director's style, but there is hardly a better one to describe the pictures of Hirokazu Koreeda, the Japanese filmmaker responsible for the lovely "After Life" and "Maborosi."

His latest, the leisurely paced and emotionally satisfying "Like Father, Like Son," is the director's best in some time, even if it doesn't quite measure up to his earliest work. Similar to his other films of recent years - "I Wish" and "Nobody Knows," the director's latest is a story involving children. But unlike those two aforementioned works, Koreeda's latest focuses more on the adults.

In the film, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a man obsessed with his work, whose parenting style involves ensuring that his young son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) is busy with piano lessons and constantly striving to improve himself. Ryota's wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), is the one responsible for supplying the love and affection to Keita as well as putting in the time with him.

One day, the family gets a surprise call from the hospital in which Keita was born, telling them that there was a mix-up at birth and that their son is actually the child of another couple, Yudai (Riri Furanki) and Yukari (Yoko Maki).

The two couples meet and the question arises as to whether they should swap Keita for Ryusei (Shogen Hwang), their own son. The problem is that the boys are both 6 years old and have been raised by their respective families, viewing their parents as their own. As they contemplate this decision, the families spend time together, allowing each son to spend the night with the other couple on alternating weekends. Naturally, the two children are unaware of their circumstances and the scenario leads to confusion for them.

Although Koreeda's latest moves at the same measured pace as you'd expect from the director, "Like Father, Like Son" is the most affecting of his recent films. The picture is melancholic without being outright depressing and there are some lovely, haunting shots of figures silhouetted by shadows that express just how in the dark each of the characters are in terms of how they will straighten out the mess in which they've found themselves.

As always, Koreeda handles his child actors extremely well. He is among the few filmmakers to consistently work with children and he appears to allow them to act naturally.

My favorite Koreeda works are still "Maborosi," the director's powerful film about a woman dealing with the suicide of her husband, and the marvelous "After Life," which involved characters who have died and are allowed to choose one memory to keep for all eternity. "Like Father, Like Son" may not reach the heights of those previous films, but it is likely the director's best work in a decade. Koreeda's stories may be simplistic in terms of plotting, but there are often complicated emotions under the surface for all of his characters, including those in this genuine and moving film.

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