Hirokazu Kore-eda’s I Wish is one of my favourite films so far this year, he has a knack with stories – telling them with just the right amount of emotion to keep out the schmaltz. Like Father Like Son is another bittersweet look at the fractures that can break apart a seemingly happy family life, revealing chasms of dissatisfaction and regret.
Kore-eda introduces a perfect couple (Ryota and Midori), living in an expensive Tokyo apartment with one son, Keita, who is much-loved but a bit of a disappointment to his go-getting father on the academic front. Out of the blue, they find out that Keita was mixed up with another boy at birth and their real son is living with a large family who own a rundown electrical store on the other side of town.
It’s an impossible situation, and as the two families meet and gradually get to know their biological children, Kore-eda focuses in on the relationships between the fathers and the boys. Ryota has forgotten about loving his child because he’s too busy working to pay for the fancy apartment and for Keita’s prep school. On the other hand, his opposite number Yudai is adored by his children – they don’t have much but there’s no doubt about the love this ramshackle bunch have for each other. The two boys are caught between families instinctively trying to hold on to the children they’ve brought up, but desperate to have what’s genetically theirs too.
This is a powerful film dotted with humour, kindness and warmth – and once again utterly brilliant performances from the children. Kore-eda knows never to play unashamedly to the emotions, but it’s impossible not to be drawn into the heartbreaking dilemmas facing both families. It’s impeccably paced and shot with a real eye for colour and for the stillness of people caught in emotional trauma.
For me, and if I’m being honest, Like Father, Like Son doesn’t quite match up to the utter joy of I Wish. But it’s already picking up awards, including the jury prize at Cannes, and has been a festival favourite wherever it’s played. Either way, it’s another wonderful film from Kore-eda.