Saturday, December 7, 2013

2013 Mill Valley Film Festival

The 2013 Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) was from October 3 to 13.  I was able to see two films at the festival

Like Father, Like Son starring Masaharu Fukuyama; directed by Hirokazu Koreeda; Japanese with subitles; (2013) - Official Website
Tokyo Family starring Isao Hashizume, Kazuko Yoshiyuki & Masahiko Nishimura; directed by Yoji Yamada; Japanese with subtitles; (2013) - Official Website

I saw Like Father, Like Son at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and Tokyo Family at the CineArts Sequoia in Mill Valley.

As has become my custom when in San Rafael, I stopped by Sol Food before Like Father, Like Son.  The food was delicious as usual.  Recently, Sol Food opened a location in Mill Valley.  I looked for it after Tokyo Family but couldn't find it.  For reference, it is at 401 Miller Ave.  The San Rafael locations on Lincoln and 3rd Street (The Big Place) and 4th (The Small Place) are within a short walk of the Smith Rafael but the Mill Valley location is quite far from the Sequoia which is at 25 Throckmorton Ave.

The first weekend of MVFF conflicted with Hong Kong Cinema.

I took a weekday off from work to run errands and ended up seeing three films (including Like Father, Like Son).

MVFF had a sidebar series called Focus: Three Generations Japan.  The series consisted of four Japanese films:  Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro, I Catch a Terrible CatTokyo Family and Like Father, Like Son.  I wanted to see I Catch a Terrible Cat but the only screening that fit my schedule was at rush when I attempted to get tickets.  Not wanting to risk making the trip to Marin County only to be left on the sidewalk, I passed on I Catch a Terrible Cat.  This also reminds me that I completely whiffed on a Hayao Miyazaki series at the PFA this summer.  Miyazaki directed From Up on Poppy Hill which I enjoyed.

Like Father, Like Son uses a plot device which I have seen before but manages to keep the story fresh.  Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a driven salaryman who is raising his six year old son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) in his own image.  Writing this, I just realized the child actor's name is the same as his character's name.  To Ryota's consternation, Keita is not cut from the same cloth as him.  He soons learns why.  The hospital calls and informs Ryota and his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) that babies were switched at birth and that there is high likelihood that Keita is not their biological son.

Once the DNA tests confirm Keita's not the Nonomiya's son, the hospital arrange for a meeting between the families.  Yudai and Yukari Saiki (Rirî Furankî and Yôko Maki) have the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei (Hwang Sho-gen) and vice versa.  Although swapping sons is not a requirement, the hospital administrators most families decide to do just that.  Apparently this switcheroo was not unheard of in Japan in the past.

This news actually comes as a bit of relief to Ryota.  Unable to motivate his son to satisfactory heights, Ryota now has a built-in excuse (it was in the genes) and an option to upgrade sons.  In fact, he hatches an idea which would make a eugenicists proud.  He keep Keita and adopt Ryusei since the Saikis are always short of cash.  Offended by the suggestion, the Saikis categorically reject his offer and Ryota "has no choice" but swap sons despite his wife's misgivings.  Ryota doesn't seem too shook up about it either.  In a heartrending scene, he informs Keita that he will live with the Saikis, he continue to practice piano if he wants to and most importantly, Keita is not to call the Nonomiyas ever again.

"Swapped at birth" is a premise that only the most untalented filmmaker could mess up.  Hirokazu Koreeda (also spelled Kore-eda) is the opposite of untalented.  His previous films I Wish (2011) and Nobody Knows (2004) have explored the separation of children from their families so this theme must have some resonance with him.  Kore-eda does something different.  Whereas the aforementioned films were told from the children's point of view, Like Father, Like Son is Ryota's story.  He has to lose Keita to appreciate him which is obviously cliche but under the capable direction of Kore-eda, the film never feels cliche.

Some films are like Caesar Salads.  The classic Caesar Salad is a thing of beauty.  Simple and delicious.  It's presence on so many menus is a testimonial to its popularity.  Some restaurants try to get fancy and put their own spin on the Caesar with varying results.  Others attempt the classic version and succeed.  Finally, there are places that attempt the classic and screw it up.  Like Father, Like Son is like a classic Caesar Salad.  It's well prepared and despite being exactly what I expected, it was pleasurable to consume.

Like Father, Like Son will be released in the US theaters in January. I recommend seeing it.

Tokyo Family is a remake of Yasujirō Ozu's Tokyo Story (1953) which is frequently cited as the best Japanese movie ever made.  The director of Tokyo Family is Yoji Yamada who was an assistant director on Tokyo Story.

Yamada faithfully follows the plot of Tokyo Story with a few exceptions.  Further solidifying Tokyo Story's exalted standing, Tokyo Family doesn't achieve the same effect.  I will assume the reader is familiar with Tokyo Story so I will not summarize the plot to Tokyo Family.

The changes from the original which I refer to include a modern day setting.  Tokyo Story was set in contemporary times also but 1953 is much different than 2013.  Whereas the specter of WWII was ever present in Tokyo Story, it's the fallout from the Fukushima disaster (figuratively and literally) and generation long economic malaise which cast their shadow in Tokyo Family.  By extension, the youngest son is now alive if not well.  In the original, he had died during the war.  Now, he is underemployed and a disappointment to his parents.  The legendary Setsuko Hara played Noriko, the dead son's widow in 1953.  In 2013, Noriko is the son's girlfriend and her kindness is not just gratifying to the parents but also gives a sense of confidence that their son will be fine...if he hangs onto this fine woman.

In 1953, Ozu handled the mother's death off screen which was consistent his hallmark elliptical storytelling.  Yamada gives the woman a deathbed scene although she remain unconscious.  However, the family members show their grief with more emotions than their 1953 counterparts.

Not surprisingly, Tokyo Family gets the short end of the stick in direct comparison to Tokyo Story.  Obviously that's an unfair comparison.  I wonder how the film is received by the sadly sizable population who have not seen Tokyo Story.  The strongest comment I can make about Tokyo Family is that it reinforced my already high opinion of Tokyo Story.

No comments: