Filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-Eda, noted for his handling of family complexities, here offers the moving “Like Father, Like Son.” The film deals with the ramifications of bringing up two children—accidentally exchanged in the hospital at birth, and now having reached the age of six—under the care of the wrong parents.
Ryota (the handsome Masaharu Fukuyama, a noted pop singing star in Japan as well as actor), a successful and somewhat smug architect, is horrified when notified by the hospital of the unwitting switch of the infants. Must they give their boy, Keita, into the hands of another family, in exchange for their birth child, but one whom they have never known?
However, Ryota does remark to the effect that Keita has never measured up to Ryota’s high standards, and the error must explain why. The hospital has suggested that the parents permanently switch the children, after a trial period of about a year. Ryota feels he must at least see his birth son.
Although the placid, passive Midori (Machiko Ono), Ryota’s wife, agrees that they must meet the other set of parents, there is no question that she has formed a strong bond with the non- birth child, Keita, a particularly sweet and sensitive six-year-old.
But Ryota and Midori are in for a shock when they meet the casual and somewhat sloppy Yudai Saiki (Lily Franky) and his pleasant but ordinary wife Yukari Saiki (Yoko Maki). This couple is more than a few steps lower on the socioeconomic level than are Ryoto and Midori. They have not even educated their “son,” named Ryusei, as to how to properly hold chopsticks.
Yudai runs an appliance store, which he doesn’t even bother to open regularly. He is more interested in being with his family—the couple already has two other children—and plays with them frequently. Needless to say, his children adore him.
For the first time, Ryota begins to question his own skills as a parent. Has he given enough of himself to Keita? Has his personal drive for worldly success short-changed his relationship to his wife and child?
Both couples agree to do practice switching of the two boys, at first for brief periods. There are touching scenes in which each boy questions as to why he must refer to his “new” parents as Father and Mother, when they are nothing of the sort.
Arguably stronger than the issue of the exchange of the children is the issue of parenthood: Is parenthood more defined by blood, or by the time that parents actually spend with their children?
The film’s ending is poignant, and somewhat ambiguous—probably deliberately so.
The acting by the four principals is consummate. Furthermore, director Hirokazu Kore-Eda is reputed to be a marvelous director of children, and it is a reputation well deserved: The two boys are nothing short of delightful.
“Like Father Like Son,” which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, opens at New York’s IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Friday, Jan. 17.
Like Father, Like Son
Director: Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yôko Maki
Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Release Date: Jan. 17
5 out of 5 stars