Like Father, Like Son Review


The Cannes-Jury-Prize-winning drama Like Father, Like Son, from the marvelously talented Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda, tells a really straightforward tale of a pair of families in crisis. It’s a regular Greek tragedy, in fact, but Kore-eda very interestingly circumvents emotion that’d be unapologetically oozing out of an American version of the same story. Two couples had the sons switched at birth, and for six years they’ve been gleefully unaware that they have been raising children who biologically belong to someone else. But only once, and barely, does any character in the film cry.

Maybe Kore-eda is commenting on his country’s stoic nature. More likely, he’s interested in exploring the dynamics that develop when a insulated family unit gets disrupted. In any case, his seemingly indifferent approach allows the viewer to assign emotion where and as much as he or she sees fit. It makes the film easy to admire from this perspective because it ought not feel contrived. The problem: it forces the viewer to focus almost exclusively on the machinations of plot, which resolve themselves in an utterly predictable way. In other words, the destination is a little dissatisfying, but the journey will warm your heart.

The two families in question are the Nonomiyas and the Saikis. The former, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori (Machiko Ono), are wealthy and have raised the well-behaved, quiet Keita, who gravitates strongly toward his adoring mother. Ryota doesn’t have much of a connection to him, which makes this conundrum a little more cut-and-dry than it is for his wife or the other couple.

Meanwhile, Yudai (Rirî Furankî) and Yukari Sakai (Yôko Maki) struggle to make ends meet. They have three kids; their eldest, Ryusei, is the one at the heart of the difficult situation they face. That said, their concern seems to be more for how much money they’ll get out of the hospital after they settle their lawsuit. But don’t mistake them for negligent parents (the way Ryota does). They care deeply for all three, and what Yudai can’t provide his family in money and things, he makes up for in quality time. His interest in the lawsuit isn’t self-serving. He’s just a practical man without much time for etiquette or social one-upmanship.

Ryota, though, is unquestionably the film’s focus, as he struggles with both being a father and a son. His father, who we meet in one of the film’s most telling and surprising scenes, never flew kites with him. Life was business, and that philosophy served Ryota well academically, professionally, and financially. But he doesn’t know how to raise a kid, how to let go and have fun with your son, how to teach him life lessons, or how to express love. And what’s worse is that because he sees himself and his family above these people that he’s suddenly forced to have a relationship with, he can’t learn anything from them as parents. It isn’t until he takes an irreversible action that he lets go of that prejudice and realizes he’s a very imperfect parent.

Seeing as it’s a Kore-eda film, it should come as no surprise that Like Father, Like Son is full of expert performances, including those given by the two children. And Kore-eda’s direction, though restrained and mostly personality-free, exudes confidence in his actors and his screenplay. It’s a well-shot, well-cut movie that recognizes the best way to tell this story is to simply let it unfold unfettered.

That’s precisely what what Kore-eda does, and while I occasionally found myself wishing for something unexpected, I can’t fault anyone involved in front of the camera or behind the scenes because they deliver on exactly what’s promised. Like Father, Like Son is a lovely movie that says no to anything capable of disrupting its fragile dramatic bubble. And while part of you might long for a surprise or two, a bigger part admires that the bubble never pops.

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