I knew it was going to end where it did, and as the credits rolled I had to stop myself yelling “Damn you! How can you leave it unfinished like that!” at the movie screen. But, my colleague observed as we walked out of the cinema, that is the power of great story telling. All the way through the movie I could imagine what had come before, and as soon as it finished I was imagining what would happen next. So lost was I in the story that I had entered the world created before me and didn’t want to be told it was time to leave.
This evening, I and some of my colleagues finished work early to go to the local arthouse cinema, Watershed, to see Japanese writer and director Hirokazu Koreeda‘s (是枝 裕和) latest film, Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる).
I deliberately didn’t read too much about the film before watching it, but I knew if it was anything like Koreeda’s I Wish (奇跡) (which I haven’t seen but have heard so many good things about) it would certainly be worth watching. In fact, I have actually seen another Koreeda film before, but didn’t realise until a moment ago when I was searching online for his other films. One of my students in Nagoya was a huge movie buff and he gave me a copy of a film called After Life (known in Japan as Wonderful Life / ワンダフルライフ), which is a quirky and utterly wonderful film about having to choose just one memory to keep for eternity. Funnily enough, I found myself thinking about that film when I came out of the cinema tonight, but I didn’t realise at the time it was by the same writer/director. Koreeda clearly has a style that’s unique to his films, and I think I’d like to see more of his work now.
Anyway, you could take me at my word at this point and trust me – Like Father, Like Son is a touching human drama, heartbreaking in places, funny in others, and you really should go and watch it. If you don’t believe me, here’s a trailer:
And if that isn’t enough to convince you, here’s some more waffle from me. I don’t profess to be a film critic at all – I haven’t seen nearly enough films, and I like far too much of what I watch to be critical. So all I can tell you is why I like this film, and try to explain to you why it got right under my skin.
Like father, Like Son is the poignant story of two six-year-old boys who were switched at birth, unbeknownst to their parents. The hospital where they were born realises the mistake 6 years later and gets in touch to discuss the idea of switching the boys back. The film addresses the ancient argument of nature versus nurture – does one have to share the same blood to be family? Can you be a true mother or a father to a child raised by someone else? The two children were raised in such very different ways – one living among high-rise buildings in the centre of Tokyo, in an apartment which is more like a hotel than a home with parents who educate but don’t play; the other in a simple house, raised by local shop-keepers.
The biggest question asked in the film is to the audience – what would you do? I’m not a parent, but I tried to put myself in the position of the mothers in the film. How on earth could you give away the child you loved and raised for six years? But how on earth could you not be with your own real child? It’s an unanswerable question, and perhaps that’s why the movie ended with some lack of resolution.
Aside from the incredible story and truly wonderful actors, the other reason to see this film is to get a fix of Japanese culture. So much of this story is set in the homes of the two families, and it’s interesting to see these two very different lifestyles. One is a family in which piano lessons are important, entrance exams for school are studied hard for and celebrated, playing on computer games is limited to short periods, and the child bathes alone to encourage independence. The other is a family which flies kites together, bathes together, digs in to their dinner together with absolute joy, and is happy despite their lack of riches. Can you imagine switching from one of those homes to the other? No, neither could I. For anyone interested in Japanese culture, this film is a lovely insight into family life and habits. I should also add that, although the film was of course subtitled, a lot of it wasn’t that hard to understand even with my poor Japanese – so it might be a good film to watch if you’re studying the language too.
So, what I’m really trying to say is: go out and watch Like Father, Like Son at the first opportunity you get! It’s a truly moving film – and absolute masterpiece.