Described as “one of the best contemporary Asian directors working today,” Hirokazu Koreeda’s film ‘Like Father, Like Son’ is a fascinating study of family dynamics. It won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It deals with one of the age-old debates - nature versus nurture. How much of a child’s personality is determined by genetics and how much is determined by the way they are raised? It’s a thought-provoking topic that Koreeda tackles with a delicate and sublime complexity. As he states in an interview, “Becoming a father is not something you do on your own – your child makes a father of you.” Koreeda masterfully shows how the children as well as the adults are deeply affected by this heart-wrenching story.
The film opens with a modern Japanese family being interviewed by an expensive preschool that can determine their child’s scholastic future. Keita (Keita Ninomiya) is a six-year-old that lives with his parents in an upscale high-rise apartment in Tokyo. His father Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful workaholic architect and his mother Midori (Machiko Ono) stays at home raising him as her career-driven husband spends long hours at the office with little time to spend with Keita. They are an affluent couple that has high expectations for their son including piano lessons and a “cram school” prepping him for a privileged education. He’s a cute and gifted little boy.
One day, out of the blue, the hospital where Midori gave birth to her son gives them shocking news. They are informed that their baby was switched at birth. Both couples agree to DNA testing which confirms the mistake. Now both families must decide whether to exchange or keep the kids. When the families meet each other, we are introduced to an unambitious appliance shopowner Yudai (Riri Furanki) and his wife Yukari (Yoko Maki). As they prepare for a lawsuit against the hospital, the two families begin a form of shared custody. They swap the two boys back to each other for weekend visits. It’s interesting to watch the children trying their hardest to adjust to their new surroundings but missing the familiarity of their upbringing.
At first, it seems obvious that the upper-class couple can provide a better life for their birth son Ryusei (Shogen Hwang). However, we find out that the lower-class couple gives something more precious to their kids than money. They give time and attention to their children. When Ryusei’s motorized toy car breaks, Yukari takes the time to fix it for him. The story centers on the hard-driving Ryota. Koreeda is careful not to make him look like a total jerk. In the beginning, he looks down at Yukari’s lower-class lifestyle. These social class differences are important to the story and eventually to Ryota’s awakening that he hasn’t been the best father to Keita. He realizes that there are some things that money can’t buy.
The parents learn that these kids are not commodities. They are distinctive individuals. It reminds you how important the formidable years are in a child’s life. They raised them for six years. The kids teach Ryota valuable lessons on the responsibilities of parenthood. Some may feel that the wives are too meek and obedient. That’s a part of Japanese culture. Ono and Maki are terrific as the two mothers. The men might think they are the king of the castle but it’s the women that are really in charge of the household. Many directors don’t like to work with children but Koreeda manages to get naturalistic performances from the two boys.
‘Like Father, Like Son’ is playing exclusively at The Flicks and an arthouse theater near you. Check out the official trailer http://www.ifcfilms.com/videos/like-father-like-son-official-trailer-2.