Like Father, Like Son (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Like Father, Like Son,” written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, has the premise of a soap opera: a couple (Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono) learns that the child (Jun Fubuki) they raised for six years is actually another couple’s child—the two boys having been switched at the hospital after being born. But the story is told with such deep insight, high level of detail, and not once is the situation, and the people caught up in it, written lightly. Everyone is treated with respect and we observe how the parents and their children navigate themselves through a series of challenges with neither easy nor convenient answers.
Audiences unused to subtle performances will need some time take on a learning curve. Although it is not the kind of picture where characters are mostly silent, details are embedded in the looks one person gives another. For instance, when Ryota (Fukuyama) gets a chance to take a good look at the boy he thought was his son for the first time since learning of the fact, we cannot wonder about what he is thinking. This is a man who is about following rules and traditions, someone who thinks highly of himself because of his career and money in the bank, someone who thinks that blood is above all else.
Fukuyama plays a father who resembles an iceberg: cold, tough, unbothered. Despite the screenplay requiring the character to go through expected but important changes, the performer is smart to downplay Ryota’s evolution as to avoid cliché. The key is in those looks he gives and the judgments he imparts through those windows. The writing is so rich that even Ryota’s occupation is a metaphor. An architect must learn to demolish what he knows, accept that the life he thought was built just perfectly is not that perfect at all, and reestablish a new, modern way of living that can endure, possibly even flourish, well after what must be done is accomplished by both set of parents.
The picture is also successful in terms of framing images. Because the child actors are not given very many, certainly not complex, challenges in terms of expressing and emoting specific thoughts and feelings, the camera must take on their perspective. This is done by allowing the adults to appear bigger or taller in certain scenes in order to communicate their dominance. When the child feels as though he is being questioned in a forceful manner, closeups of adult faces fill the screen accompanied by very quick cuts of the child’s face, this time the camera is less close in order to allow for room to breathe.
The story is not simply an exploration of whether blood truly is thicker than water. I argue that this work is a critique of that well-known saying because the maxim tends to reduce the subject into something that is either black or white. Thoughtful, surprising, and daring almost every step of the way, “Soshite Chichi ni Naru” is likely to engage and compel those who yearn to explore the gray areas of parenting on a personal level and how society expects or dictates parenting ought be like based upon patterns and traditions.