Since the film’s premiere at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Award, Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru) has been featured in the 2013 New York, Toronto and Chicago Film Festivals and won Audience Awards at the 2013 San Sebastian and Vancouver Film Festivals. The film has also shown at the 2013 AFI Fest. On seeing it you will surely know why. Its universal appeal to families, sons, fathers, wives touches the hearts of everyone who sees it. Its sensitivity in treating human emotions those of parents to each other and to their own children and those of the children to their parents and other siblings is so tender and delicately handled by director Hirokazu Kore-eda, that the film stays within the viewer and grows stronger if seen again.
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows, Still Walking), Like Father, Like Son has been picked up by Sundance Selects for U.S. distribution. International Sales Agent Wild Bunch has sold the film worldwide. It was produced and distributed by Fuji Television Network, Inc., Amuse Inc. and Gaga Corporation in Japan.
Like Father, Like Son centers on Ryota (Japanese star Masaharu Fukuyama), a successful Tokyo architect who willingly and consciously works long hours to provide for his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), and six-year-old son, Keita. When a blood test reveals Keita and another baby were switched at birth, two very different families are thrown together and forced to make a difficult decision while Ryota confronts his own issues of responsibility and what it means to be a father.
After seeing the film a second time at the Crescent Screening Room in Beverly Hills (I had already seen it in Cannes) and being feted at a special dinner at Spago among the Hollywood Foreign Press, I felt very privileged to interview Kore-Eda the next day.
Sl: Having been a fan of Nobody Knows about two siblings whose mother has left them with no sign of returning (there is no father), can you tell me what is your common thread between the two films?
Kore-eda: Until recently becoming a father, I had not been very conscious of fatherhood. The children in Nobody Knows had a resonance with me. The children are projections of myself.
I grew up without a father. Hana yori mo naho was also about a Samurai without a father and Still Walking also had a troubled father. Like Father, Like Son gave me the opportunity to show when it is not good with a father.
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. In order to make the film interesting and compelling to the audience, I placed the protagonist in the situation of being a victim of switched babies.
Your films often touch on paternity. What do being a father – and fatherhood itself – mean to you?
Kore-eda: I really don’t have an answer right now. As my position in the family tree has changed, I believe my idea of fatherhood has changed as well. I will probably continue to look at fatherhood in my coming films until I figure it out.
Sl: How was it working with the children?
Kore-eda: I wanted there to be a contrast of character between the two children. The goal was to bring out their individual personalities in the film. Because the children are six, I wanted them to express confusion rather than sadness, towards their situation.
It’s difficult to elicit puzzlement from children. Most often I just let them act and did not have to explain to them. But when the boy runs away to go home to his family and when Keita thinks that his father is coming for him and he runs away, I had to explain.
On the other hand, when the boy is in the architect’s house and he keeps asking “why”, I didn’t explain anything. The actor told the story and the boy’s acting was totally natural.
Sl: How about working with Fukuyama Masuharu. How was it with him? I know he was a famous pop singer. Here he played such a cold man.
Kore-Eda: He was a pop singer and songwriter for 20 years but he is also known as an actor too. In person he is down-to-earth, straightforward, friendly and is always entertaining everyone, but his public image is cool. I was surprised on meeting him to see how friendly he was.
He has not played many roles as an ordinary, everyday type of guy, like a father.
I took advantage of his coolness and broke it down. He seemed to enjoy badmouthing people, talking about money. Together we pushed his unlikeablity, but just enough so that the audience stayed on his side. I coached him to raise his head and look down, to curl his lips in disdain, to turn his back on someone.
His fans might not like seeing him act this way, but they are only part of the audience for this film. His fans range from 20 to 40 years and are predominately female. The audience was a broad range including people in their 60s and 70s in groups, seeing it multiple times. 2.5 million have seen the film in Japan making it the most successful of all my films.
Sl: What about the idea of bloodlines (nature vs. nurture)?
Kore-eda: The actor is very conservative, a trait he got from his own father and he has to grapple with it. The man on the street today would probably choose the child they raised. On the other hand, adoption has not caught on in Japan and the importance of bloodlines is not an anomaly. Many still hold to the emphasis on bloodline and heritage. Interestingly, the Koreans who see the film would choose bloodlines even more than the Japanese.
Sl: Tell me about the music. The piano which the little boy plays and the piano music which played during the transitions?
Kore-eda: When I am working on a script I usually choose one instrument with a particular emphasis. The image I had while wring this was when the children were in the car switching families. I wanted music which was not melodic but rather percussive. I had been listening to the CDs of Glenn Gould and his music seemed to fit the image. I was afraid it would not be easily obtainable, but with Amuse and Gaga on the case, they were were able to obtain the rights.
Sl: At the end, the family became inclusive and the necessity to choose one over the other was less important. I liked that very much. Can you talk about that?
Kore-eda: The script’s last scene description was explicit. It said that the two families merged as they all entered the house so that you could not tell who was the child and who were the parents.
N.B. The publicist joined in our conversation to say how “blended” families are so prevalent today in the United States, with divorce, children from two families merging…Kore-eda liked that and said that perhaps one of his next films will deal with such a concept of blended families.