Like Father, Like Son

Ryota Nonomiya is a successful businessman driven by money. He learns that his biological son was switched with another child after birth. He must make a life-changing decision and choose his true son or the boy he raised as his own.

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  • ★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd

    Hirokazu Koreeda is arguably one of the most consistent and talented filmmakers working today. Like Father, Like Son - his latest exploration of the Japanese family unit - is yet another nuanced, tender and bittersweet work that possesses a subtle power. Tackling a moral dilemma that is almost impossible to comprehend, Koreeda explores themes of family, responsibility and identity.

    Ryota is a successful businessman whose carefully managed world is thrown into disarray when he discovers his biological son was switched at birth - together with his wife he must make the impossible decision to choose his real son or the boy he has raised as his own for six years.

    Although the film’s premise may seem contrived and far-fetched, particularly in this day and age, Koreeda sensitively handles the dilemma at the centre of the story. Contrasting the two families - Ryoto is an ambitious architect driven by work whilst Yudai is a working class father more interested in life away from work - the film explores the age old nature versus nurture debate as the parents wrestle with what is right for their sons and their unconditional love for their children.

    Despite the sensationalist subject matter Like Father, Like Son is pleasantly free from mawkish melodrama. Instead, Koreeda handles the heightened emotions beautifully keeping the emotional turmoil internalised. As a result the film is far more affecting as you gradually learn about the six principal characters and feel every conflicting emotion they are forced to face.

    The faultless performances are a big reason for the film’s success. Masaharu Fukuyama arguably has the hardest job as the distant Ryoto but he delivers a nuanced and affecting performance, particularly come the film’s beautifully realised climax. His adult co-stars are equally flawless but Koreeda must be congratulated once again for coaxing charming and unprecocious performances from the two children caught in the middle of the extraordinary situation. As with his earlier films, most notably Nobody Knows and I Wish, Koreeda has a remarkable talent for working with young actors and it pays off handsomely here.

    Like Father, Like Son is another poignant triumph from Koreeda.

  • ★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd

    an apocalypse of cuteness, the Citizen Kane of Disney Dad movies. humane, complex & heartbreaking to the hilt. i'm genuinely disturbed by how much of my future self i saw in the film – it's an uncanny portrait of the dad I'm afraid of being. methinks some of my less enthusiastic colleagues fundamentally misconstrued the central questions of the film.

    i don't think Kore-eda's narrative is preoccupied with questioning whether the rich / cold man is a better father than the poor / warm man. the former is clearly the protagonist of the film, it's not a contest - this is *his* story, and that story is essentially about... well, no way of saying this without it sounding overly sentimental... it's about the currency of love. and, mercifully, the film ultimately dismisses the idea that playtime = affection. if the characterizations are schematic, they're certainly never phony... and i think there's great truth to the idea that anyone presented with this predicament would be quick to reduce the other party to archetype, if only to make it possible to steel themselves for the unfathomable domestic fallout. i believed every look, every gesture... but maybe that's just because i'm my father's son.

  • ★★★★★ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd

    ''The mission is over.''

    My first Hirokazu Kore-eda excursion is yet another example of exquisite Japanese filmmaking from a master (often referred to as the heir to Ozu's throne) who is in complete control of his craft, displaying effortless poise and grace in this carefully measured and emotionally affecting familial drama.

    A 'swapped at birth' scenario is the main narrative thrust, which gives weight to the examination of parental love vs. bloodlines, the clash of class and social standing and the complexity and struggles of making an impossible decision, especially after loving and raising a child you thought was your own for 6 whole years. The entire cast shine with committed performances, but it's the children that make this such a potent and engaging tale, drawing us into this big bad world through their big brown eyes.

    Kore-eda orchestrates Like Father, Like Son like a symphony, perfectly balancing the drama and humour and ensuring it hits the right notes throughout, combine this with striking photography, an immersive score and delicate pacing, it is a film that I simply cannot fault and it damn well earned every tear it stole from my eyes.

    Still Walking, consider yourself queued!

  • ★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd

    As he did in his last film I Wish, Hirokazu Koreeda appears to effortlessly capture the miniature of youth through his lens, moments of naturalism that reveal the intangible essence of what it means to be full of such wide-eyed wonder. Family is once again the focus for Koreeda to explore the idea of nurture v nature in this wonderfully written story.

    Two families are left to pick up the pieces of a horrible mistake made by the hospital where their children were born. Now at the age of six the boys also have to find a way to adapt to the security of their world being turned on its end, the fundamentals of understanding family life discarded along with it. Mum and Dad are no longer officially the people they have been labelled, despite their actions dictating otherwise.

    Six years after the birth of young Keita and Ryusei blood tests reveal that they were swapped as babies and subsequently raised by the wrong parents. The families attempt to make sense of the revelation by gradually integrating the boys into their homes although the differences between ones more rigid, reserved approach is compared with the others fun, laid back style, pointing toward environment ruling natures hardwiring.

    There are no blunt contrasts made between the two backgrounds or the habits of the children formed whilst raised by their non-blood parents. Koreeda's natural approach observes the two families interacting so we pick up the subtle differences and nuances of such an absurd situation. He doesn't look for easy answers because quite frankly there never will be for these people.

    Keita's side retains more of the stories focus throughout with his career dedicated father finding it the hardest to adapt. Work dominates his life saving little time for his relationship with Keita losing valuable moments that can never be regained. He struggles to identify his true responsibilities within the changing dynamics, where love was once too easily taken for granted.

    A mothers inseparable bond with their kids starts from the moment life begins to form in their bodies, the kicks in their stomachs late at night, providing milk from their bosom, literally at one with their offspring. The role of the father is a strange one at times that can veer from ferociously protective to nonchalantly distant. As we see here, the key to understanding is not finding a lifesaving answer but simply just doing our best to find out what it may be.

  • ★★★★½ review by Ruth on Letterboxd

    Every film I have seen from Kore-eda to date has been a classic, but I think this might ultimately go down as his key work. The way it utilises a rarely explored dilemma in film to accentuate the countless angles and aches of a father-son relationship is downright extraordinary. This is such an emotionally deep film, even by Kore-eda's standards, and at least several points in the film will bring tears to your eyes and pangs to your heart. Despite on face value having the switched-at-birth trope at the forefront, the film title is ultimately much more indicative of the overall content.

    There is a lot of contextually rich nuance in this film which I appreciated, intensifying the nature of this dilemma. You couldn't set this story in a more appropriate country. Those with a studious interest in Japanese culture will find this film to be a treasure trove of cultural data, yet it still retains a very universal sentimentality and condition which will appeal to all. There is a lovely duality here of blood/non-blood running parallel throughout the film to genuine love/societal expectations, and the family is about growing beyond those walls, which is powerfully achieved in the final scene.

    Additionally, for those familiar with Kore-eda's earlier career musings, this feels like yet another extension of his soul and family memory. The central character here is once again the father, and whilst there are other emotional angles explored in the film, it is primarily channeled through this particular character development.

    Like Father, Like Son isn't his most perfect work, or his most confronting work, but it's his most vital work, and neatly encapsulates his career musings in both such a subtle and emotional fashion. Some might see the poster photo as having been an ideal way to end the film, but I appreciated how the film finally took its kid gloves off and explored the ramifications, as well as achieving at least 2-3 further emotional breakthroughs. The ultimate ending is far superior and thoroughly earned. For a 2 hour film, this film is extraordinarily ambitious, and pulls it off.

    Japan has been home to dozens of great directors over the years. I have especially loved the works of the likes of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kobayashi, Kurosawa, Oshima & Kitano. But Kore-eda could very well retire as my favourite of the lot, with another gem or two.

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