After 13. edition
Festival Spotlight
25 July 2013
Festival Spotlight - Father Knows Best

Fathers play a pivotal role in two Japanese features screening today, although it would be difficult to find more starkly different films, or the directors who made them.

Kore-eda Hirokazu's Like Father, Like Son tells the story of a well-to-do couple faced with a dilemma regarding their six-year-old boy. The father, an ambitious workaholic, is distant and demanding. The difficulty he faces brings him into contact with a family of lesser means, whose patriarch is ever-present, thoroughly engaged in his children's lives and, in return, loved by them.

Kore-eda's moving drama is of a piece with his earlier films dealing with parental abandonment of children, Nobody Knows (2004, familiar to those who watched Mark Cousin's wonderful The Story of Children and Film) and 2011's I Wish. He elicits impressive performances from the two boys, played by Keita Ninomiya and Hwang Sho-gen, whose lives are about to radically change. However, this time the focus is as much on Masaharu Fukuyama's unwittingly neglectful father, whose awakening is realised with characteristic subtlety by Kore-eda.

Subtle is not a word that has ever been used to describe Takashi Miike's work. A one-man studio who is to cinema what a chainsaw is to a forest, he has directed over forty films since his international breakthrough with Audition in 1999. His latest, Shield of Straw, takes a familiar set-up and turns it on its head.

A young girl has been murdered. The grandfather, a rich banker, places an immense bounty on the killer's head who, in turn, gives himself up to the authorities. It is only then that the police realise the scale of the problem on their hands: how to transport a criminal across Japan, to face trial in Tokyo, when the entire population, including the members of the police force, may try to kill him.

Reminiscent of Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet, 16 Blocks and The Raid, Miike's film opens like a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster - the first of many escorts to Tokyo, featuring a cavalcade of police and military vehicles, verges on parody - before embarking on its own path. The film might have been more suspenseful if the guilt of Tatsuya Fujiwara's detainee was in doubt, but that is not Miike's point. His focus is on our corruptibility, questioning the relevance of the law in the face of someone clearly guilty of their crime and the misplaced belief that we live in a civilized society.

Ian Haydn Smith

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