I think this was my favourite film in the London Film Festival this year, but I’m finding it difficult to write much about it. In part, that’s because this delicate story of parents discovering that their six-year-old son was switched at birth is precisely that: delicate. It takes an inherently melodramatic conceit and really focuses in on the emotions of the father, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), as he tries to come to terms with the situation. He is a hard-working banker who loves his son but has not been greatly involved in his life; his family have prompted him to believe that bloodlines are very important, so when he discovers his ‘real’ son is being raised by a poorer couple with several other children, he feels he needs to ‘rescue’ him.
Around him, there are strong performances from Machiko Ono as his wife Midori, who appears unable to express her real feelings around her husband, and Yoko Maki and Lily Franky as Yukari and Yudai, the parents of the other child, who despite their poorer means seem to have a much happier life. The contrasts between the two family homes are well-captured by the cinematography — one being a colourful mess of a place attached to a convience store the couple run, the other all muted colours in a monochrome high-rise building (as Yudai wide-eyedly remarks, “the others were right, it looks like a hotel room”).
The director Hirokazu Koreeda succeeds in focusing the story on Ryota, even if it makes the film rather too much about his feelings to the exclusion of those around him. One is tempted at times to just want him to step aside and let the far more reasonable and sensible mothers sort things out (for the other father, Yudai, is a bit of an dolt, if a well-meaning one). However, it’s to the film’s credit that it keeps its focus on the central premise and the kinds of emotions that are unleashed, without falling into overblown melodrama.
I feel unequal to the task of reviewing this kind of film. It is a sensitively-made tearjerker which does what it sets out to do very effectively. It seems to avoid the pitfalls inherent in the premise, and is a fine addition to director Koreeda’s already strong film work.
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和; Cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto 瀧本幹也; Starring Masaharu Fukuyama 福山雅治, Machiko Ono 尾野真千子, Yoko Maki 真木よう子, Riri Furanki リリー・フランキー [as “Lily Franky”]; Length 121 minutes.
Seen at Renoir, London, Tuesday 15 October 2013.