Like Father, Like Son…a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

April 14, 2014 by Roz Tarszisz
Read on for article

Are the ties of blood stronger than that of parental love?  A heartbreaking dilemma explores the bonds that define a family in modern Japan.

The movie opens with Keita and his parents at an interview for a place at a good elementary school. Keita is only 6 but competition is so fierce he has already had outside coaching; his acceptance is cause for celebration.

This middle class family lives in a high-rise, upmarket apartment block. Keita’s gentle and loving mother, Midori (Ono Machiko), is a housewife. His father, Ryota (Fukuyama Masaharu) is a successful architect and workaholic with high expectations of his son. Midori and Keita spend a lot of time together while Ryota pursues his career.

The couple’s well-ordered life is shattered when they find out that Keita was switched at birth. The maternity hospital belatedly reveals that Keita is the son of Yukari (Lily Franky) and Yudai (Maki Yoko). The other boy, Ryusai, is the eldest of three children in a working-class family.

Where Ryota is a contained and distant father, Yukari is a loving and attentive man who spends a lot of time with Ryusai and his siblings.

The story takes place over several months as the two families get to know each other and slowly introduce each boy to his natural parents with a view to swapping the children permanently. It is through the children that Ryota eventually learns to get in touch with his emotions and what it means to be a father — and a son.  The acting is uniformly strong.

The switched-at-birth story is not a new idea. In 2012 French director, Lorraine Levy’s The Other Son looked at two Israeli and Palestinian boys who find out at the age of 18 of that they were accidentally switched at birth..  In spite of the setting and opportunity for political point scoring, that film had a similar theme of the importance of family. On the other hand, the 1988 film starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, Big Business, took a decidedly comic approach.

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda has steered away from the Japan of tourism brochures and kept the focus on ordinary landscapes and daily life.  There is nothing to distract the audience from the extraordinary dilemma faced by two sets of ordinary parents. The musical score is subtle and unobtrusive.

While it is a serious subject, and one that has been explored before, there are moments of humour and sweetness along the road to resolution and redemption.  Like Father, Like Son is about relationships and family dynamics and while its themes are universal, the treatment is firmly Japanese.


LANGUAGE: Japanese (with English subtitles)

RATING: PG (Mild themes)   LENGTH: 120 minutes

Stars:  Ono Machiko, Fukuyama Masaharu, Maki Yoko and Lily Franky

Director and Writer : Hirokazu Kore-eda   

 3.5 out of 5 

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