Like Father, Like Son ( Soshite chichi ni naru) (2013) Film. Director: Hirokazu Koreeda



Would you choose your natural son, or the son you believed was yours after spending 6 years together? Kore-eda Hirokazu, the globally acclaimed director of “Nobody Knows”, “Still Walking” and “I Wish”, returns to the big screen with another family – a family thrown into torment after a phone call from the hospital where the son was born… Ryota has earned everything he has by his hard work, and believes nothing can stop him from pursuing his perfect life as a winner. Then one day, he and his wife, Midori, get an unexpected phone call from the hospital. Their 6-year-old son, Keita, is not ‘their’ son – the hospital gave them the wrong baby. Ryota is forced to make a life-changing decision, to choose between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture.’ Seeing Midori’s devotion to Keita even after learning his origin, and communicating with the rough yet caring family that has raised his natural son for the last six years, Ryota also starts to question himself: has he really been a ‘father’ all these years…. Written by Wild Bunch (Imdb), Saturday 18 May 2013

Hirokazu Kore-eda has returned to Cannes with another gentle and warm-hearted family drama in that classic Japanese manner that he has been gravitating towards in recent movies like Still Walking (2008) and I Wish (2011). It is a very decent piece of work, although not as distinctive as those two previous movies, not quite as finely observed and frankly a little schematic and formulaic, with life-lessons being learnt by the obvious people. It does however have charm and abundant human sympathy.

Like Father, Like Son is a “baby-swap” drama: go-getting salaryman Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and his sleek wife Midori (Machiko Ono) live in a perfect modern house and have a little 6-year-old boy — their only child — whom they push hard educationally. Then the hospital sends the devastating news that their baby was mixed up six years ago with the child now being raised by another family, with other siblings: Yudai (Franky Lily), an amiable semi-slob who works behind the counter of a shop and his sensible wife Yukari (Yoko Maki). The slow, agonising diplomatic process of meetings between the families begins, and Ryota hires a hotshot lawyer, ostensibly so that all four can unite to sue the hospital. But arrogant Ryota has an awful secret plan: snobbishly aghast at where his biological boy is being raised, and unwilling to relinquish the one he has naturally come to love, he is scheming somehow to prove legally that Yudai and Yukari are unfit parents so that he can take legal charge of both boys — or to make them a huge cash offer to let their son go to him.

Kore-eda has said that he was inspired by his own recent experience of fatherhood to write and direct this film and by the “baby-swap” cases inJapan in the 1960s. I wonder if he was not also inspired by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, whose basic plot resembles this movie in a couple of key particulars. Nature versus nurture is the obvious theme, and this movie suggests that nature is far less important than we might think.

There is a doppelgänger theme, interestingly like that of his earlier film I Wish, in which two brothers were being raised in different households: with the amiable slacker dad and hardworking worrier mum. But there was complexity in that story, and no reassurance as to which parent has got it right about life and which of them is wrong. In this film it is quite plain: Ryota should loosen up, and easy-going, goofy Yudai is the life-affirming good guy. The movie tracks Ryota’s crisis, and assumes that Yudai doesn’t and needn’t change. There is something more challenging in its depiction of Midori, who feels guilty that her boy is an only child with no sibling-playmates, and wonders if allowing the other family to take him is the right thing to do. But then what right has she to inflict only-child loneliness on the boy they’re getting in return?

The story of the two boys has an interesting larger resonance. Perhaps many hard-working strivers in Japan — people who have worked tremendously hard from their infancy to get to the top in business, or indeed film-directing —might sometimes look wonderingly into the mirror and consider if they might be happier in an alternative, underachieving existence. Who knows? This is a sweet-natured, but essentially undemanding film from Kore-eda.



The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s previous feature, I Wish, was a jewel of a film; a tale of two young brothers torn apart by their parents’ separation who put their faith in a mythical vortex created by the passing of speeding bullet trains. The original title of that film was Kiseki – the Japanese word for miracle – which perfectly captured its transcendent, humanist charm.

Kore-eda returns to the subject of parents and children in this beautiful, melancholic paean to paternity, which sifts through issues of nature and nurture as gently as a hand passing through drifting sand. The story is an old one – two babies, accidentally swapped at birth, raised by families of differing social status, now faced with the heartbreaking prospect of having to exchange their six-year-olds in whom each family has invested so much energy, ambition and love. Masaharu Fukuyama is the affluent workaholic whose initial sideswiped reaction (“Now it makes sense …”) masks more complex inner turmoil; his aversion to the ramshackle family in which his biological son has been raised inevitably gives way to a realisation that he has been an absent father and husband – repeating the patterns of previous generations.

While the adults attempt to sort through the conflicting bonds of blood and water, the children flow from family to family like intermingling streams of effervescent life. As before, Kore-eda’s facility for casting and directing young performers is spine-tingling; watching these children as they watch their parents is utterly mesmerising, reminiscent of the finest work of the Dardenne brothers; unobtrusive, intuitive, instinctive. Equally impressive is the refusal to reduce any of the adults to stereotypes – while a cliched contrast between wealth and austerity beckons, Kore-eda invests his characters with believable flaws and strengths, regardless of class and situation. Even the nominal “villain” of the piece (the nurse responsible for the switch) is given a sympathetic hearing – a lost soul with her own parental issues. The result is a deceptively rich and rewarding drama, small of gesture, huge of heart.



One of the great themes of Japanese cinema, and perhaps the greatest, is family: particularly our place within it, and its within us. More than 80 years have passed since Yasujiro Ozu first set his camera on a tripod, lowered its legs slightly and made I Was Born, But…, and you might well assume that by now the subject would be pretty well exhausted. But Hirokazu Kore-eda has found a fresh perspective on this durable theme, and he surges into it like a child playing inside a duvet cover, feeling his way right to the corners.

And playfulness is the prevailing spirit of the piece: despite the film’s unhappy premise, watching Like Father, Like Son feels like paddling in a clear, sunlit spring. Kore-eda’s film is about two families who discover that their six-year-old boys were switched at birth, and it centres on one of the fathers; a busy architect called Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukushima) who lives with his wife Midori (Machika Ono) and their polite and neatly brushed six-year-old son Keita. Their home is a well-appointed Tokyo apartment that has had the life interior-designed out of it, and Ryota works long hours to pay for it.

When Keita registers for primary school, a blood test reveals that he is not in fact the Nonomiyas’ child, and further inquiry reveals that their biological son has been living across town with a Mr and Mrs Saiki, who own a not-all-that-busy electrician’s shop. His name is Ryusei, and the hospital suggests that the two families get to know one another and, over a period of 12 months, exchange one boy for the other.

When Kore-eda’s film screened in Cannes, it prompted the loudest reactions yet from the habitually noisy crowd: rippling laughter throughout, sustained applause at the close, and a steady refrain of goosey honks as attendees cleared their tear-streaming noses.





American Teen (2008) Documentary Film. Director: Nanette Burstein




Roger Ebert

July 30, 2008

“American Teen” observes a year in the life of four high school seniors in Warsaw, Ind. It is presented as a documentary, and indeed these students, their friends and families are all real people, and these are their stories. But many scenes seem suspiciously staged. Why would Megan, the “most popular” girl in school, allow herself to be photographed spreading toilet paper on a lawn and spray-painting “FAG” on the house window of a classmate? Is she really that unaware? She’s the subject of disciplinary action in the film; why didn’t she tell school officials that she only did it for the movie?

Many questions like that occur while you’re watching “American Teen,” but once you make allowance for the factor of directorial guidance, the movie works effectively as what it wants to be: a look at these lives, in this town (“mostly middle-class, white and Christian”), at this time.


The director is Nanette Burstein, whose credits include “On the Ropes” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture.” She spent a year in Warsaw, reportedly shot 1,000 hours of footage, and focused on four students who represent segments of the high school population.

Megan Krizmanich is pretty, on the school council, a surgeon’s daughter, “popular” but sometimes considered a bitch. She dreams of going to Notre Dame, as her father, a brother and a sister did. She seems supremely self-confident until late in the film, when we learn about a family tragedy that her mother blames for her “buried anger.”

Colin Clemens, with a Jay Leno chin, is the basketball star. His dad has a sideline as an Elvis impersonator (pretty good, too). The family doesn’t have the money to send him to college, so everything depends on winning an athletic scholarship, a fact he is often reminded of. He doesn’t have a star personality, is a nice guy, funny.

Hannah Bailey is the girl who wants to get the hell out of Warsaw. She dreams of studying film in San Francisco. Her parents warn her of the hazards of life for a young girl alone in the big city, but she doesn’t want to spend her life at a 9-to-5 job she hates. “This is my life,” she firmly tells her parents. She also goes into a deep depression when a boyfriend breaks up with her, and misses so many days of school as a result that she is threatened with not graduating.

And Jake Tusing is the self-described nerd, band member, compulsive video game player, who decorates his room with an array of stuffed, framed or mounted animals. He has a bad case of acne, which is a refreshing touch, since so many movie teenagers seem to escape that universal problem.

During this year, a guy will break up with his girl by cell phone. A topless photo of a girl will be circulated via the Internet and cell phone to everyone in school and, seemingly, in the world. Megan will make a cruel phone call to the girl. Romances will bloom and crash. Crucial basketball games will be played. And the focus will increasingly be on what comes next: college or work? Warsaw or the world?

Warsaw Community High School, with its sleek modern architecture, seems like a fine school, but we don’t see a lot of it. Most of the scenes take place in homes, rec rooms, basements, fast-food restaurants, basketball games and school dances (curiously, hardly anyone in the film smokes, although one girl says she does). We begin to grow familiar with the principals and their circles, and start to care about them; there’s a certain emotion on graduation day.

“American Teen” isn’t as penetrating or obviously realistic as her “On the Ropes,” but Burstein (who won best director at Sundance 2008) has achieved an engrossing film. No matter what may have been guided by her outside hand, it is all in some way real, and often touching.



The Guardian, Friday 6 March 2009

Like Anvil, the recent movie about failing Canadian rockers, this study of a group of American teenagers in their final year of high school is on the mocu-documentary borderline. Is it for real – or not? Well, it is supposed to be real. Film-maker Nanette Burstein has followed five teenagers over 10 months as they prepare for adulthood. One’s a jock, one’s a nerd, one’s a bitch-princess, and so on. Some things in it do look very authentic indeed, like one boy’s acne. Yet there’s an awful lot here which is simply too good, too dramatically shaped, to be true. Throughout the film I had a nagging sense that it simply had to be a hoax. One girl is a indie-chick outsider and wannabe film student – in a fiction feature, she would obviously be the director’s autobiographical persona – and her boyfriend breaks up with her by text. We see the text in closeup. Ouch. Was that for real? The princess vandalises a rival’s home: this scene really does look staged, or at least reconstructed. Or maybe it’s simply that the teens involved were getting a sixth sense of what was going to look good on camera. Perhaps documentary film-making has become so self-conscious that the grammar of spoof has become overwhelmingly influential. Either way, this film was for me marred by the persistent suspicion that the director wasn’t being entirely straight with us.



  March 9 – 2009  

American Teen turns fact into fiction

Documentaries can impose on those who appear in them a narrative all of their ownScreen entertainment has presented us with a familiar version of what goes on in the typical American high school. Engaging youngsters conforming to a small range of heartwarming stereotypes grapple with hopes, dreams, jealousy, infatuation, rejection and disappointment, but nothing more serious. By prom night, they’ve overcome their troubles, put their mistakes behind them and readied themselves for the challenges of American adulthood.

It’s a vision that plays well enough on screen, but what about the reality? In real life, surely things must be a little more complicated, troubling and uncertain. Should you want to know the truth, you may have been looking forward to American Teen, a big-budget, Sundance-garlanded documentary that purports to lay bare the facts.

Yet, guess what! The facts turn out to be much the same as the fiction … only more so. Nanette Burstein’s portrait of 10 months in the life ofWarsaw Community High School, Indiana, unveils not just the characters we know so well already, but the self-same stories too.

Here be the bitchy princess, the jock, the geek, the rebel and the heartthrob. Popular but bullying Megan overreaches herself with a nasty prank that threatens her otherwise glittering future. However, a sad family secret explains away her dark side and redemption quickly follows. To get to college, Colin needs a basketball scholarship. Overeager, he hogs the hoop, wrecking his team’s and his own prospects. A wise old coach intervenes; Colin learns to pass to his teammates and therein finds salvation.

Documentary this may be, but it finds no room for downers such as drug mishaps, abortions or social diseases. All that distinguishes its heroes from their fictional counterparts is that one of them is allowed to have acne. So, has Hollywood been telling it just like it is? Is teen life stateside just a more exciting version of The Breakfast Club?

Before accepting that this must be so, we should perhaps take note of certain details. Burstein didn’t settle upon her slice of life at random. She painstakingly extracted her final 95 minutes from 1,000 hours of footage. The film’s five stars were selected through carefully staged auditions. Upon what basis?

“They all had a good story,” Burstein explained to the LA Times, “so I felt I had all these strong narrative arcs I could follow that were saying something larger.” It had to be this way, if she was to achieve her purpose. “I want to entertain people; I want to move them in the same way a fiction film would.”

Imagine you’re a Warsaw high-schooler turning up for your audition. You’ll suss out what Burstein’s after in around two seconds. If you want your 15 minutes of fame, and you must certainly do, you’d better make sure that your story matches her needs. If you’re selected, you’ll adapt your behaviour to suit the required narrative without even thinking about it.

Psychologists regard the desire to conform to “demand characteristics”as a “confounding variable” that can wreck an experiment. It is known as“Hawthorne effect”: it causes human behaviour, like that of subatomic particles, to change simply because it is being observed.

Certainly, American Teen offers its audiences an unintended diversion. You can spend the whole time trying to guess which of the film’s many photogenic key developments would actually have occurred if the cameras hadn’t been present. Would that girl really have emailed that fateful photo of her breasts? Would that boy have ditched his sweetheart by text message? How many of all those tears would actually have been shed?

In recent years, conventional fiction has been losing its appeal. We’ve grown a bit bored with it: after all, it’s just made-up stuff. Hence the vogue for authenticity that’s brought us so many misery memoirs, WAGs’ autobiographies and reality TV shows. Nonetheless, we still crave the narrative drive, clear-cut characters and moral certainties that fiction has always delivered. Exercises such as American Teen are trying to square this circle.

Last week, The Class offered us real people playing fictionalised versions of themselves in what was presented as a drama. This week we’ve a documentary in which real people play versions of themselves that may also have been modified. Both films blur the boundary between fact and fiction in an attempt to get the best of both.

We should expect more such ventures. Maybe we should welcome them. Yet we’ll need to keep an ever closer eye on what exactly it is that we’re being offered. Stories are seductive and compelling, but the truth is messy and uncertain. If we allow ourselves to be led into mistaking the one for the other, we’re likely to live to regret it.