With his previous film I Wish, we knew that Japanese filmmaker Kore-eda was an expert at drawing engaging performances out of adorable young children. And he does that again here, but the film's main focus is on a man who discovers the little boy inside himself, as well as the father he should be. It's a strikingly sentimental story that never gets remotely sappy because it draws out delicate details in each scene.
The man in question is Ryota (Fukuyama), a well-off architect raising his cheeky 5-year-old son Keita (Ninomiya) with his quietly observant wife Midori (Ono). When they're notified that Keita was swapped with another baby at birth, their reactions are extremely telling. Ryota says, "Now it all makes sense", while Midori wonders why she didn't notice it earlier. Their biological son Ryusei (Sho-gen) has been raised by the poor shopkeeper Yudai (Lily) and his wife Yukari (Maki), who have two other children. The question is whether they can just swap the boys back to their biological parents, or are the bonds already too strong?
By keeping the focus on Ryota, Kore-eda pulls us into the events from an intriguing angle. Sharply well-played by Fukuyama, Ryota is cold and sometimes harshly demanding, which we learn is a legacy from his own father. He's also snobbishly dismissive of the poorer family, even offering to raise both boys himself. By contrast, Yudai always puts his family ahead of his work, something alien to Ryota. So the key is whether Ryota will be able to view this situation through the boys' eyes.
Continue reading: Like Father, Like Son Review
Even without much of a plot, this meandering Japanese film holds our attention with a clear-eyed attention to character detail and situations that spark our imaginations. Beautifully shot and edited, filmmaker Kore-eda tells the story from a child's eye, offering a funny, involving look at growing up. And the film refreshingly never pushes its themes home, delicately letting us take an adventure along with a group of lively kids.
After their parents separated, the thoughtful young Koichi (Koki Maeda) went with their mother (Ohtsuka) to live in the southern city of Kagoshima, which is dominated by an ash-spewing volcano. He misses his cheeky little brother Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda, Koki's real brother), who has moved north to live with their slacker-musician dad (Odagiri) in Fukuoka. Over the phone, they hatch an elaborate plan to ditch school and meet up at the seemingly magical point where new bullet trains cross, where their wishes will be granted. Travelling with their friends, Koichi and Ryu begin to realise that what they wish for might be changing.
Yes, this is a sort of coming-of-age film in which two young boys make some startling discoveries about the world. But writer-director Kore-eda never overstates any of this, so the film feels like almost like a free-form documentary following both the children and adults through everyday experiences that are so well observed that they take our breath away. In the raw, honest performances from the entire cast, we feel like we're watching ourselves up there on-screen.
Continue reading: I Wish Review