Like Father, Like Son (2013)

In honour of Father’s Day tomorrow, I’m re-posting my review of the acclaimed Japanese film Like Father, Like Son. (Update: Director Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent work Our Little Sister is a Palme d’Or nominee at Cannes 2015.)


I had wanted to see this Japanese film since it came out last year. Missed it at TIFF13 last September, its North American premiere after winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize in May. Glad it has finally arrived on Netflix, reaching a much wider audience than just festival goers, deservedly.

Like Father Like Son

Director Hirokazu Koreeda wrote the screenplay based on a disturbing premise: what if after six years of raising your son, the hospital where he was born contacted you and told you that your child was switched at birth, and of course, they sent their apology.

The hospital officials do not take this lightly. DNA tests are done to confirm. They have a lawyer with them, arrange to have you meet the other parents, mediate and ease the proposed switch back, which they recommend with a six-month preparation period, preferably before the boys start grade one in school. They even find out who the nurse is that made the error; due to her own frustrations at the time she knowingly made the switch. Of course, she is deeply sorry for what she had done and duly prosecuted. Monetary compensations are arranged.

But all the above have absolutely nothing to do with easing the shock and alleviating the trauma afflicted upon the families. Formality and legality do not soothe the pain; apologies and money cannot compensate for the abrupt termination of relationships.

Director Kore-eda has treated the subject matter with much tenderness and charm. The cinematography is stylish, the children and adults are all captured in a realistic manner with splashes of endearing humour.

The two families come from very different social strata, and the two boys have been raised in opposite parenting styles. Interestingly, only one of the families seems to take this news much harder. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful professional who spends most of his time in the glass towers of Tokyo busy at work. His son Keita (Keita Nonomiya), an only child, is raised in a protective environment. Mother Midori (Machiko Ono) is loving but also ambivalent about a husband who puts his career over his family.

The other family is a shop owner in a rural part of the country, their son Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang) is the eldest of three children. Father Yudai Saiki (Rirî Furankî) is every child’s dream. He spends his days playing with his children, fixes their toys, and exerts no rules, albeit Mom Yukari (Yoko Maki) might wish he could have spent more time working.

What makes a father? What makes a son? Fatherhood and bloodline tend to supersede all other factors in a patriarchal society like Japan. But the film reflects the point of view that not all families necessarily embrace such a value. Further, apparently there are different parenting styles even in a homogeneous Japanese society.

If there is ever a Japanese version of the movie Boyhood as we have seen from Richard Linklater, Hirokazu Kore-eda would be the ideal person to direct it. Like Father Like Son follows his previous work I Wish (2011) in its sensitive and incisive depiction of a boy’s heart and yearning. He can tear apart the facade of societal formality – but in a most tender way – and lay bare the hopes and needs, the essence of parents child relationships.

I must give credits to Johann Sebastian Bach, and the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. The beginning of Bach’s Goldberg Variations had been used in numerous films, but every time the soulful slow moving piano melody comes on, I am moved, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, and in so many different genres of films. Just from memory, I can think of The English Patient (1996), Hannibal (2001), Shame (2011)… It is so effective in augmenting cinematic moments without becoming clichéd.

Here, the Aria is well placed as director Kore-eda uses it as a motif to spur us into deeper thoughts. What makes a father; what makes a son? What is more important, blood or relationships? What is the role of a wife and mother in a patriarchal society? What is the purpose of giving birth and bringing up a child? What is fulfilling and meaningful to us as human beings? Indeed, a motif that can strike a universal chord of resonance that transcends cultures.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


To Kill A Mockingbird

Clint turns 80 today.  A book dedicated to him as well as a special DVD just out to celebrate his life-long achievement.  There’s no shortage of Father’s Day gift ideas.  I understand though the man himself does not want any celebration on his birthday.  So to make his day, I’m not going to say anything more about him.

But there’s another birthday, or anniversary rather, that should be mentioned.  To Kill A Mockingbird turns 50 this year. Another good choice for Father’s Day, or any day really, and not just for fathers.  In recent years, as I see current events unfold, I truly feel this will make a marvellous gift for Law School graduates, or any graduate for that matter.   In this tumultuous time we’re in, where honor, justice, and nobility of character seem to become obsolete as quickly as the latest techno gadget, we all need a guidepost, a moral compass, ever more so.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of its publication, Harper Collins has published a special edition:

Harper Lee had based the story on her childhood experiences in her hometown Monroeville, Alabama.  Her understated storytelling of Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem of Maycomb had won readers’ hearts the world over.   Two children growing up learning the value of respect and justice, love and integrity from their father.  Theirs was a most trying of times when racism and the Depression joined hands to destroy any fragile decency still present in a poverty-stricken town in the deep south.

Strangely, the story of such a parochial setting had triggered universal resonance.  The novel has been translated into at least 40 languages, sold over 30 million copies.  It has gained the number one spot on the list of greatest novels of all time.  It is the choice of British librarians according to a poll conducted by the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), in which librarians around UK were asked the question, “Which book should every adult read before they die?”  Just hope people don’t wait till then.


To Kill A Mockingbird DVD, Universal Legacy Series

To complement the book, I highly recommend the DVD set of the Oscar-winning movie (1962).  Make sure it’s the Universal Legacy Series (2005).  This is a two-disc collection with loads of memorable special features. Here’s a list:

  • Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech — Gregory Peck
  • American Film Institute Life Achievement Award — Gregory Peck
  • Daughter Cecilia Park’s heartwarming tribute to her father
  • Scout Remembers — An interview with Mary Badham, who talks about her experiences working with Gregory Peck
  • Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill A Mockingbird
  • The documentary A Conversation With Gregory Peck, produced by Cecilia Peck.  Scenes with Lauren Bacall, Martin Scorsese, President Bill Clinton and the Peck family.  Most moving is ordinary people sharing how the movie had impacted them, in their career choice, parenting and life.

“All the children of the whole world must have wished they could have Gregory Peck as their father.  He was ours, and that was our blessing.  He really was a lot like Atticus Finch… The last page of his film script of To Kill A Mockingbird, he had scrawled these four words at the bottom: Fairness, Courage, Stubbornness, Love. And they remind me so much of him…”  — Cecilia Peck’s tribute to his father

“It’s difficult to separate the man from the character.”  — Mary Badham (Scout) reminisces on her experience working with Gregory Peck

“Making millions is not the whole ballgame.  Pride of workmanship is worth more, artistry is worth more.  The human imagination is a priceless resource.  The public is ready for the best you can give them.  It just maybe that you can make a buck, and at the same time encourage, foster, and commission work of quality and originality.”  — From Gregory Peck’s acceptance speech for American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award.

And if you think it’s all about Gregory Peck, well in a way it is.  I can’t think of anyone better to climb into the skin of Atticus and walk around in it.  The man is Atticus Finch, as his colleagues and family had testified. Gregory Peck received a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his role.  I must mention too that this is where Robert Duvall made his acting debut, without saying one single word, as Boo Radley.

The other good reason for this Legacy Series is the 11 Exclusive Reproductions of Original Theatrical Posters. They are printed in a handsome set of cards, each a tribute from the country it comes from: Australia, Belgium, Italy, Japan, Argentina…

And last but never the least, a note from Harper Lee herself about the actor playing a character that was a cinematic reflection of her own father.

“When he played Atticus Finch, he had played himself, and time has told all of us something more:  when he played himself, he touched the world.”   —  Harper Lee