September 28, 2013

Kore-eda Hirokazu’s 「そして父になる」(Like Father, Like Son)

I generally only watch 2-3 Japanese films per year (something I’m not particularly proud of), but Kore-eda is one of the handful of Japanese directors whose works are so consistently acclaimed overseas, I wanted to see how someone who is part of the culture would respond to it. 

The story, where a family learns that their 6-year-old son was switched with another family’s son at birth, sounds like it could be a schmaltzy, made-for-TV mess, but director/writer/editor Kore-eda uses it as a backdrop to explore notions of family, fatherhood vs motherhood, social class, and city life vs suburban life in Japan. It is an astoundingly rich portrait thanks to the incredibly naturalistic filmmaking. Every detail and piece of dialogue has been carefully considered, yet the result seems unforced and natural. The performances, led by singer/actor Fukuyama Masaharu, are also impeccable – each character is perfectly realized, down to their speech, comportment, and clothing. (Also, I see now why Kore-eda is so lauded for getting great performances out of children.) I recognized 100% the Japan depicted in the movie; it is an extremely precise encapsulation of the way we live now.

The relatively linear flow of the first half gives way to more fragmented scenes in the second half as the story takes a devastating turn. This film will make you cry, so my advice is to pace yourself. I couldn’t tell where the story was heading so I ended up absolutely bawling from the first third onwards. 

The film opens throughout Japan today, after three days of advance screenings to build word of mouth. It opens with a newsreel of the film's success at this year's Cannes, where it won the Jury Prize.

P.S. To all of the non Japanese-speaking critics who will describe Ono Machiko's character (wife to the protagonist) as "passive": I wish there was a way to translate the amazing work that Ono is doing with her voice. When she speaks to her husband, there is a slightly mocking, performative element to her tone that suggests that she is speaking in a way that a loving wife should. But beneath the pretty petulance, there is a hint of snideness. She may be restricting herself when it comes to her actions, but she is not entirely the gently suffering wife either.

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