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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★★★★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 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.
★★★★★ 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 Jonathan White on Letterboxd
TIFF 2013 – film#4
Reason for pick: Director Hirokazi Kore-eda – After Life
I had great expectations for Like Father Like Son. Director Kore-eda wrote and directed After Life in 1998, and it has remained one of my all time favourites. I’ve also seen Nobody Knows, a heartbreaking true story of a mother who abandons her 3 children and leaves them to fend for themselves. With Like Father Like Son, I think I set my expectations a bit too high.
The central conceit is two babies that have been accidentally switched at birth. The story follows the lives of the two families affected. One with a successful, driven, married-to-his-work business man as a father, the other a happy go lucky shop owner. The decision before them … what to do? Think about it a minute. It’s an exceedingly difficult question. No less difficult a question than the one Kurasawa posed in High and Low. Now, my first reaction would be to share custody .. especially since they live in the same city, but Like Father Like Son is more about possession. The successful father is a workaholic, and expects the same effort, and same level of talent that he has. When the conceit is first revealed, he proclaimed (literally) ‘That explains it!’ His son, up to this point, hasn’t lived up to his exacting standards. He doesn’t so much want ‘his’ son, he wants a better son.
An interesting start, but sadly the story arc follows the same course charted by the House of Mouse. The two previous Koreeda’s I’d seen had a simple conceit that always kept you wondering; the outcome was never clear. Here, I saw the port of call, and we had just barely set sail. The beauty in the film, though, is in the portrayals. Masaharu Fukuyama’s, as the driven father, is excellent. Likewise Lily Frankly as his more human counterpart. The children are believable, not-too-sweet, and non-precocious. Machiko Ono and Yoko Maki, as the respective wives, weren’t given much to do, sadly. It’s possible their lack of input could be culturally normal in Japan, but it seemed glaringly absent here.
My fear is this movie will fall into the wrong hands. Not surprisingly, Koreeda is in talks with North American studios about an English language remake. Film is a business, after all. God help us if Spielberg or Hallström get a hold of this.
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