Said to have picked up where Yasujiro Ozu (more on him this month) left off, Hirokazu Koreeda explores domestic situations and territory that was once explored by the legendary auteur. It's best to find a starting point to the emotional mazes of Koreeda's films. So let's start at Nobody Knows.
Based on the Sugamo Child Abandonment news story from the late 1980's, Nobody Knows tells the story of a mother and her four children and how one day she decides to abandon them. Survival thus becomes a crucial element to the children as the eldest boy, Akira (played by the immensely talented Yuya Yagira), ends up getting the rest of his siblings food and water just to make it through the day.
We empathize with these characters in a way that builds naturally and subtly. Koreeda's crisp compositions and shot selection elevate the material to the sublime. Where a simple pottery plant falling to the ground or a kid throwing up a bottle of water and catching it has such poignancy. The restraint shown here is extraordinary. As the realism of the situation is never sacrificed in favor of emotional gimmicks. Koreeda simply lets it play out.
The next Koreeda film I watched was Like Father, Like Son. Documenting the domestic situation again but this time from a different perspective. From that of two families and two children caught in the middle. This film delves into the topic of babies being switched at birth and asks the question: If you raised a kid for 6 years and discovered it was not your biological son, would you switch it with the family that has the biological son.
Most movies would start and stop at the question. Koreeda wisely lets the story unfold and allows more question to be built on that one: How would each kid react? What led to the swap in the first place? What emotional burden would the parent carry who decided to swap the kid?
There's no melodrama to be found here. Emotions are internalized. Actions are hidden away. The portrayal of the characters lay upon the shoulders of truly gifted actors Masaharu Fukuyama, Yoko Maki, Jun Kunimura, Kirin Kiki, and Machiko Oko.
Both films establish Koreeda as a new director to be taken seriously and one whose filmography I will be going through.
Both Nobody Knows and Like Father Like Son are streaming on NetFlix Instant.