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.
I can’t recommend this one enough – Hirokazu Koreeda’s story of two brothers, separated when their parents split up, is truly heartwarming. It’s a film about being a kid – those pre-teen years where you can’t wait to be grown up but aren’t quite ready to put your toys aside. When you’re young enough to believe in making wishes but old enough to know they aren’t going to come true.
The two brothers are cheerily played by a couple of very young stand-up comedians, Koki and Oshiro Maeda. Koichi (Koki) has moved south with his mother to live with her extended family and Ryu (Oshiro) has stayed with his slacker musician father. They’re getting on with life, but miss each other and Koichi particularly longs for a return to the old days. When his life wasn’t showered with ash from his new home’s active volcano.
Koichi hears a rumour that at the point where two bullet trains cross you can make a wish and it will come true. It’s too tempting a chance to miss and the boys set off from their separate homes, ready to magic their family back together, both accompanied by a gaggle of friends with their own hopes and dreams. And something magical does happen on the journey, although not quite what they were all wishing for.
It’s a simple tale, sparingly told and with real heart. My only complaint would be the 80s jangly guitar soundtrack which felt a bit incongruous. But that’s a small moan. You’ll leave the cinema feeling like you’ve had a lovely hug and a packet of Spangles. Just wonderful.