Posts Tagged ‘Yasujiro Ozu’

In one of his most notorious quotes Yasujiro Ozu mused ‘I just want to make a tray of good tofu. If people want something else, they should go to the restaurants and shops.’ What the Japanese auteur was insinuating was a dedication to his own distinctive film making style and a dismissal of experimentation for experimentation’s sake. The same could equally be applied to his fellow native director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who has often been likened to Ozu for both his minimalistic aesthetic and concentration on family matters. As with his previous film I WishKore-eda has trained his focus on issues of class, parenthood and childhood.

It is actually remarkably similar to I Wish. That particular film focused on two brothers living with separate parents and kept apart by distance and their upbringing. In Like Father, Like Son we again have two sons from differing backgrounds, but this time it is a case of mistaken identity. Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a workaholic high flyer living in the city with his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) and young son Keita (Keita Ninomiya). Their life comes to an abrupt halt when they get a phone call from Keita’s birth hospital informing them that there was a mix up with the babies; Keita is not their son. Soon the family are introduced to Ryusei (Shogen Hwang), their biological son, and his working class family out in the sticks.

Like I Wish, it is an intriguing and playful experimentation with the idea of families. If I Wish, perused the notion of parental guidance and what it means to be family, then Like Father, Like Son  pushes the idea one step further. Ryota is desperate for Keita to be a winner in life and baulks at his son’s perceived softness. Meanwhile his wife Midori worries about the disconnection of Ryota from family life and his dedication to his job. Taking on writing duties as well, Kore-eda cleverly contrasts their uptight world with Ryusei’s family- the lackadaisical father who tells Ryota that there is nothing more important than time to a child, something Ryota cannot dispense.

As the two families begin to see more of each other and consider the possibilities of ‘exchanging’ the children, Ryota starts to question the meaning of parenthood and family; is blood more important than the time he has spent bringing up Keita? Kore-eda refrains from giving the audience easy answers to the questions he asks of them, leaving us with a complex and subtle drama. In fact, I would place it up alongside his earlier film After Life as one of Kore-eda’s best works. Framed around a series of vignettes, the film does begin to lag slightly in the second half when the two boys move homes, but picks up again for a cathartic yet understated ending.

The performances are subtle and nuanced, while the children are sprightly and naturalistic. Kore-eda uses his customary static framing to observe the action without judgement. The melancholic piano score does threaten to over sentimentalise the scenes but this is only a small flaw in the film. Although Like Father, Like Son is steeped in Japanese culture, it has a universal appeal that conveys the complexities of both family and parenthood.

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While the Oscars, Baftas and countless other award ceremonies scream and shout for attention, life goes on for the films and film makers not boisterous enough to be awarded with a golden prize. One such film quietly tiptoed into UK cinemas this February – Hirokazu Kore-eda’s I Wish. The Japanese director has been plying his trade with quiet aplomb in his home country, turning out a number of excellent family dramas such as Still Walking and After Life. Often described as the heir to Yasujiro Ozu, Kore-eda excels at creating naturalistic and observational depictions of modern family life that do away with any hysteria.

I Wish, like some of his previous films, focuses on children rather than adults. Koichi and Ryunosuke are two brothers living apart in a broken family; Koichi lives with their mother and her parents in Kyushu, while Ryunosuke decides to live with his father in Hakata. Despite the slightly unusual situation, Kore-eda deigns not to dramatise this domesticity in the opening set-up of the film. It just is. Koichi, the older of the two, is desperate to reunite the family. Despite the presence of his two school friends, he leads a boring, sanitised existence with his mother and grandparents. Ryunosuke, however, is a live-wire, enjoying the freedom of his fathers lax lifestyle and the attention of his girl friends.

A flicker of hope arrives for Koichi when news of a new train line between the two cities arrives. The two brothers set about concocting a plan to meet midway, and visit the place where the rail line intersects. There, they can make their wish. The question is, what do they really want most in life? That is the main theme running through the film. Kore-eda creates an interweaving ensemble of characters with their own fears, hopes and desires; from the schoolgirl who wants to be an actress to the grouchy grandad trying to perfect his sponge cake. Kore-eda’s skill lies in his ability to make the audience empathise with the plight of all his characters, even with little screen time.

The film hinges however, on the two brothers performances. Koki and Oshiro Maeda are two precocious siblings who were discovered by the film makers as two budding comedians hoping to become famous, and I Wish will surely cement those dreams. They have a natural chemistry, and can move from drama to light comedy with ease. Much of their interaction at the beginning of the film relies on the use of phones; they talk to each other after school while their parents are away. Their conversations are childish but deeply moving, as they learn little details of how the other is learning and growing without the other.

Kore-eda uses a mixture of static shots and handheld camera to give an observatory feel, and the gentle folk soundtrack moves the scenes along rather than for sentimental cues. The Japanese director makes pains not to sentimentalise the story, which makes the quieter revelatory moments all the more moving. For Kore-eda, less is more. On the surface I Wish is a gentle, innocent film about childhood and coming of age, but beneath that lies some serious lessons about responsibility and compromise.

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