「そして父になる」 Like Father, Like Son

Masaharu FUKUYAMA (Scoop!) stars as a father who learns his 6-year-old child is not biologically his own in this bittersweet family drama from writer and director Hirokazu KOREEDA (After the Storm), which was released to critical acclaim and festival accolades in 2013 and can currently be found streaming via Hulu (in Japanese w/ English subtitles). Machiko ONO (Too Young to Die!), Lily Franky (Still Deeper than the Sea) and Yōko MAKI (Poison Berry in my Brain) round out the primary players, a pair of couples contending with the revelation that their children were switched at birth.

As the original title implies (soshite chichi ni naru – roughly and then I became fatherLike Father, Like Son‘s emphasis is squarely on Fukuyama, as career-driven architect and so-so dad Nonomiya, throughout. Nonomiya’s parental anxiety is pushed to the fore once the film’s unusual narrative circumstances are put in motion – worries, in particular, that his son is not meeting his lofty expectations. That his son is revealed to be the biological offspring of a pair of distinctly working class shopkeepers provides an attractive out, an excuse that alleviates Nonomiya of his own parental responsibilities while aligning comfortably with his social prejudices. That his son exists elsewhere, estranged, means an opportunity to start over, to rebuild his family in his own blooded image, to achieve the ideal.

None of this goes as planned, of course, and as his own actions threaten to rend his family asunder Nonomiya is forced to reckon with his misplaced priorities and personal failings, to own up to his responsibility and finally become ‘dad’.

Like Father, Like Son is another tremendous work from Koreeda, a drama at once fresh and familiar and which maintains a sense of warmth and buoyancy even as it explores its darker eventualities. Koreeda’s screenwriting is as delicate as his direction, the stakes of his drama high, but its humanity palpable. Photographer Mikiya TAKIMOTO (Our Little Sister, website and portfolio here) puts the narrative’s corresponding visual preoccupations to the proverbial canvas, indelible images of economic divide – a spotless Tokyo penthouse contrasted with a choked street-level storefront, a Lexus four-door too long for its parking spot and a minivan scarcely large enough to need its own.

Fukuyama excels, in a film replete with laudable performances – you know you’re doing things right when such notables as Isao NATSUYAGI (The Land of Hope) and Jun FUBUKI (Seance) are filling out the bottom of your credited cast. Kirin KIKI (Sweet Bean) steals the picture in her brief appearances as Nonomiya’s mother-in-law, killing it at Wii tennis and waxing giddy about sweets. Still, it’s the children, leads Keita NINOMIYA and Shōgen HWANG and a handful of supporting tykes, who ultimately hold the show together. Koreeda allows Ninomiya and Hwang to behave as precisely what they are, primary school kids, and Like Father, Like Son is made all the better for it.

Like Father, Like Son is currently streaming via Hulu in Japanese with English subtitles, and is available for digital rental or purchase through Amazon.com as well. A domestic DVD edition is also available, through MPI Home Video.

Need something to watch? We’re here to help. Eiga On-demand is Eiga · Bouei’s continuing mini-guide to Japanese cinema available through digital platforms in the United States.

「影の車」 The Shadow Within

Yoshitarō NOMURA captained this perverse little drama, from Shochiku in 1970. The Shadow Within begins as a more-or-less traditional romantic melodrama, centered around an affair between a widowed single mother and a man in a listless marriage, but as is ever the case in Nomura films, all is not quite as it seems.

Anchored in the anonymous apartment blocks of Cold War-era Tokyo, The Shadow Within finds a believable romance blossoming between old friends Gō KATŌ (Castle of Sand) and Shima IWASHITA (The Demon). Domestic tension rises as Katō’s wife (Mayumi OGAWA, Vengeance is Mine) attempts – and fails – to reinvigorate her marriage, and then to suspect, but then suspense creeps in from a source less expected: Iwashita’s six year old son (Hisao OKAMOTO, Love Stopped the Runaway Train).

Though at first only concerned that the boy is not warming to him, after a series of strange events Katō soon suspects the child has more sinister intent. Flashbacks of Katō’s own childhood, and of his mother’s own affair with a doting ‘uncle’, soon begin to color his assumptions. A decidedly ambiguous performance from Okamoto keeps the plot simmering, and the truth of matters obscure.

Ever the eclectic dramatist, Nomura punctuates the romantic highs and anxious lows of the tale with moments of nigh-operatic ostentation and diversions into the dully quotidian. The Shadow Within hangs well in the balance, an inter-generic oddity that’s all the stronger for its implacability. Yūsuke TAKITA (Submersion of Japan) co-stars, with lush ‘scope photography by Takashi KAWAMATA (Black Rain).

The Shadow Within has no North American home video edition, but is available in Japanese with English subtitles through the Criterion Collection’s channel on Hulu.

Note (11/25/2016): With the Criterion Collection exiting its partnership with Hulu in favor of a new streaming venture (Filmstruck, in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies), the above is no longer accurate. The small yet commendable selection of Nomura films the company once had available for streaming, most carried over from the catalog of the long-defunct Home Vision Entertainment, is no longer available in the United States in so far as I can tell. The Shadow Within was reissued on Region 2 DVD by Shochiku in 2013, but this edition lacks any sort of English language support – unfortunately it is also currently the best, and to my knowledge only, in-print means of viewing The Shadow Within. The film remains highly recommended, and it’s a shame to see it become so inaccessible for so many once again.

Need something to watch? We’re here to help. Eiga On-demand is Eiga·Bouei’s continuing mini-guide to Japanese cinema available through digital platforms in the United States.

Walk the path of the yakuza vampire

It’s difficult to know where to begin when it comes to MIIKE Takashi’s absurd action saga Yakuza Apocalypse (Gokudō Daisensō), an unremittingly strange and ultimately inconclusive genre smash-up about vampire gangsters who help the poor and downtrodden, farm blood from an underground knitting-circle, and do battle with a mythical terrorist frog-man for… reasons?

YAMAGUCHI Yoshitaka’s screenplay rambles with propulsive glee towards nowhere in particularly, seemingly given free reign to indulge whatever preoccupation strikes it. As pure senseless entertainment it certainly gets the job done, touching upon elements of horror and action and satire with plenty of rolled r’s and profanity to spare. It’s FUKASAKU Kinji by way of ISHII Teruo, stripped of all but the tiniest strands of plot and pumped through Toei’s tokusatsu hero shop for good measure. A game and talented cast (including The Raid‘s Yayan Ruhian as a foul-mouthed otaku assassin) and Miike’s quirkily capable directorial sensibilities ensure that it all comes off with style to spare, even if the film never quite adds up to the sum of its delirious parts.

Yakuza Apocalypse has been available on DVD and on-demand in North America for some time now, but I caught up to it in HD via Amazon Video, where it is currently available at no additional charge to Prime members.

Need something to watch? We’re here to help. Eiga On-demand is Eiga·Bouei’s continuing mini-guide to Japanese cinema available through digital platforms in the United States.