The complicated significance of blood connections is compellingly presented in director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest effort Like Father, Like Son.
The film follows Ryota (played by Fukuyama Masaharu), a successful businessman whose constant striving for excellence dominates every motivation of his life, particularly in his household where the academic expectations for his son Keita have grown quite high.
One day, he and his wife Midori (played by Ono Machiko) get an unexpected phone call from the hospital where Keita was born, informing them that the son they’ve known for 6 years is not actually their own and was accidentally switched at birth with another child.
As the dilemma of returning Keita and accepting his newly discovered biological son escalates, Ryota finds himself struggling to stay afloat as he witnesses his personal conceptions of fatherhood and family morphing into blurred indecipherable manifestations.
Probing and dissecting the idea of family quite methodically, the film examines both the surface level shared biology of individuals as well as the more abstract qualities of experienced livelihood.
The central question the filmmaker poses is what exactly defines family?
Hirokazu says, “I have a 5-year old child, just like the protagonist in the story, and through making this film I wanted to think about what blood connections really mean, an idea very close to me.”
Ryota initially believes blood to be the sole indicator of family existence; that the ingrained indisputable heredity of an individual is most important. Any other supplemental aspect such as shared household is simply superfluous and should be given little consideration.
As with previous Hirokazu films like Still Walking and Nobody Knows, the director develops a cinematographic approach reminiscent of fellow Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu in which the expansive complexity of seeming simplicity creates a photographic realm allowing constraint and eternity to form the pathways leading to the bustling emotions of the mind.
There’s a pristine claustrophobia permeating from scene to scene, Ryota and Midori’s anxiety hardening into the modern well-lit rooms of cafeterias and office buildings, structures mimicking the stretching daze-like infinity so that soon the terrain itself is the glowing projection of suffocating anguish and loss.
The matter of honor also persists, both in a social and personal regard. Not just upholding and benefitting the outward social reputation of the individual, but trying to repair and diminish the pangs of abandonment the individual has for allowing his biological child to be raised by another family. There’s embarrassment, frustration and ultimately an ever-present guilt seeming to infect all individuals involved.
With Ryota however, this embarrassment is initially more selfish, and by acquiring his biological child serves as a means of mending his damaged and confused ego.
It is only through steady and often painful introspection that his opinion on the essential qualities of family changes, leading him into unfamiliar yet refreshing territory.
Hirokazu says, “Is it then, the realization of shared blood that makes a man into a father? Or is it the time father and child spend together? Could it be that my tenuous acceptance of myself as a father comes from not having spent enough time with my child? Is it blood or is it time?”
What Hirokazu offers is more than just a debate over paternal right and security, but instead, carefully shows how the qualities of selfhood give way to the often visceral sensation of knowing you share in the molecules of the individuals around you.
Whether physical or not, it is this strange beautiful aura that binds us together.