Hirokazu Kore-eda thought he had possibly created a monster with his latest film “Like Father Like Son,” depicting what may be a parents’ worst nightmare. His wife thought otherwise.
“She found it very interesting, the most fun of all the movies I’ve made so far,” the Japanese writer/director tells me, shortly after the film’s North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.
Perhaps that’s because beyond the documenting the pain that comes with having your child accidentally switched at birth, the latest from the man behind “Still Walking” and “Afterlife” gets at the tantalizing question of what makes someone a parent with the story of Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), an architect whose family threatens to be torn apart by the recent revelation that his son is actually the blood relation of the owner of a small gadget shop (Rirî Furankî). Discovering that their children were mistakenly mislabeled at the hospital, the two reluctantly swap their sons, who are both young enough to suggest that they could still forge a regular relationship with their natural fathers.
The experiment proves as thorny as one would expect, yet as guided by Kore-eda’s graceful hand, “Like Father Like Son” is provocative in how it explores the nature-versus-nurture quandary, with Ryota coming to learn as much about how he has been shaped by certain social forces as much as a child that didn’t share his blood. For the prolific filmmaker who grew up without a father himself and became a father himself six years ago, it’s a debate that’s close to his heart, which pours out here considerably more than the reserved Ryota, and while in Toronto with the help of a translator, he shared his reasons for making the film now, how his own upbringing shaped his love of films and why the prospect of an American remake doesn’t bother him.
I started by meeting Mr. Fukuyama, the actor for the main character, and we wanted to do something together. Mr. Fukuyama is a huge star in Japan, but he’s not an actor and when I thought about what would be interesting for him to do, he doesn’t really look like a father, so I thought that might be an interesting role for him to play.
Then I thought of the things I feel as a father, the struggles that I have and decided to put them on him and have him struggle with what I’m struggling with as a father. So I started thinking about [are you a father because of] birth? With my own daughter, for example, is it because she was born to me or is it the amount of time I spend with her [that makes me a father]? I don’t really have a lot of time to spend with my daughter, so that really makes me wonder how does one become a father. That quandary was what really started this film.
Ryota has an interesting line in the film where he says “There are certain jobs only I can do.” I wouldn’t want to make you feel immodest in answering, but I wonder whether it feels that way as a filmmaker of your status when it comes to balancing your personal life with your professional one.
[laughs] I don’t know that I’m that confident to say there are some movies only I can do. To be honest, there are many masters, some of the great masters that I am still learning from in terms of making films. But as a human being, as a husband and as a father, as a result of all those things what I feel, what I’d say is that if you had a hundred different people making films who are the same – husband, father, thinking about it kind of thing, you’d get a hundred different films. So the films that I make are uniquely mine because they come from me and if I increase that aspect, then by doing that, I feel that I’m creating something in my movies that will communicate to people something important.
Do you learn something about yourself when you make a film with a personal touchstone?
Not too much. To some degree when you put yourself into the film and then you see it there, it’s like in concrete form and then all of a sudden, you look at it and you go, “Oh my gosh, am I really that bad?” I try not to put too much weight on unpleasant aspect of it, but at the same time, it does help me to realize certain scenes and certain aspects of myself in different way by having it up on the screen. The process of putting yourself into it is a process in which you can learn as well.
For me, it’s about the perspective. Most of the film is from the perspective of the father, so everything is seen through the father’s eyes and in that moment when he sees [the pictures his son took] in the camera, it flips and it’s the father seeing from someone the child’s [point of view], so you have this sudden reversal where the son is showing what the father looks like to the son. In that moment, for the first time, you get a clear feeling of the child’s intention, which you don’t get up until that point, so that was how I used the cameras in this film.
Was there a reason you took the perspective of the upper class family as opposed to the lower class one?
Because this movie is about a man who is successful at everything. Then he encounters this incident where he finds out the baby’s been switched and one by one, he loses and he loses and through that process of having things stripped away from him, he gains the ability to be a father. If you start with somebody who doesn’t have anything, you can’t strip that away from them. So for me, the person who was going to be stripped away from had to be that way and the other father was really there as a foil, someone who could assist in that process of stripping away.
My mother loved movies. Before the war, there’s an area in Japan called Yurakucho and she would go there and watch movies. When she got married, we weren’t particularly wealthy, so she didn’t have the time to watch movies anymore, but I know NHK television, the public television channel in Japan, there were black and white movies of all the classics, so she would watch all the classics – Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, “Bicycle Thief,” — so certainly I was introduced to movies in that way, but when I went to university and began studying, I started seeing films on my own. I was around 20 and I started seeing things like Truffaut, Felllini, Rossellini – I particularly liked Italian neorealism. Kurosawa, Ozu…that’s when I really started thinking about working in film.
There’s rumors of a remake of this film, as there have been with other films you’ve made such as “Afterlife.” How do you feel about remakes and are you ever involved in them in any capacity?
In terms of “Afterlife,” Fox has the rights to it and it’s actually still developing, so I’m hoping that at some point it may come to fruition. Regarding this film, the contract hasn’t been sealed yet and or signed, so I can’t talk very much about it, but I don’t think I would be involved in the remake as a director. Certainly as the person who made the original film, I feel very honored that people would be interested in remaking it. It makes me happy. At the same time, I also feel very strongly that I would like my original version to be seen, so I’m not opposed to remaking it in that sense as long as the original has a life of its own. Also, by something like that happening, it can often make it easier for me to make my next film, so I have a broader base of recognition that will give me more opportunities in the future as I make my next films.
“Like Father Like Son” is now playing in New York and will open in Los Angeles on January 24th at the Laemmle Royal and Pasadena Playhouse 7 before expanding nationally. A full list of cities and dates can be found here.