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The Japanese family and fatherhood in 'Like Father, Like Son'

Like Father, Like Son


Are you looking for the real Japan, the Japan beyond the samurai and the geisha? Then see "Like Father, Like Son." Hirokazu Kore-eda's movie, like most of his movies, is about the modern Japanese family.

There are no samurai running around Japan except for entertainment. Some geisha continue that trade. Yet even during their time, the Tokugawa period, samurai and geisha made up less than 10 percent of the total population.

Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, the "Like Father, Like Son" centers on two boys who were switched at birth and how the situation is handled. "Like Father, Like Son" opens at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 and the Royal.

The movie seems to set up a class comparison along with a nature versus nurture paradigm. Ryota Nonomiya (singer-songwriter Masaharu Fukuyama) is a driven highly paid architect. He and his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono) have taken their son, Keita (Keita Ninomiya) to "audition" for an exclusive private school that Ryota had previously attended. Keita has been coached to have the right answers which may not be true at all.

Midori gets a call from a hospital in her hometown. Eventually, the hospital reveals that Keita is not their child. They introduce them to the parents of their child: Yudai Saiki (Lily Franky) and Yukari Saiki (Yoko Maki). The father's name is almost a comical contrast: Yūdai means grand, majestic. The yū means great leader. (The last names of both parents are also place names).

The Saiki are struggling lower middle class. The father runs his own shop, selling mostly light bulbs, and the family lives above. The mother works part-time at a fast-food ramen store. The child they have been raising, Ryusei (Shogen Hwang) is the oldest of three. The Saiki, particularly the father, seemed to be focused on the financial possibilities and the father, Yudai is crassly often more interested in the food served.

High achievers like the people at Caltech and Art Center can probably relate to the pressures of Ryota. He means well and he's trying to get the best education for his only child. Ninomiya is charming as the bright but not necessarily Type-A personanlity Keita. His smile is winning and we don't see his father, Ryota smile with joy, not at first. Fukuyama's Ryota is all about problem solving and he's used to getting his way.

According to the director's notes, Kore-eda noted that while his wife "appeared to transform into a mother" when their daughter was born five years ago, he felt "somewhat estranged." He asked himself, "At what point does a father truly become a father?"Kore-eda contrasst the modern, westernized Nonomiya, who sleep on Western-style beds in a home that is "like a hotel" against a merchant family squeezed into a tatami. living space that doubles as a shop. Yudai is the old way of working at home father, yet because he works for himself and works at home, he has more time for his three children.

Ryota may be a father, but he has yet to become a dad, because most men can father a child, but not everyone sticks around to be a dad. Here, Kore-eda puts the responsibility fully on Ryota because when this problem crops up, his boss encourages him to slow down and take time to sort out his family situation.

As with his 2004 "Nobody Knows"(誰も知らない) and the 2011 "I Wish" (奇跡), Kore-eda is concerned with the conundrums of the modern family but in "Like Father, Like Son," the focus is not on the children, but on the fathers and, in particular, the kind of father who doesn't find time for his children. It's a question we've asked in America as well, most poignantly in the Harry Chapin song, "Cat's in the Cradle."

"Like Father, Like Son" won the Cannes Jury Prize and is nominated for Best Picture by the Japanese Academy and is currently playing at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7.

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