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'Like Father, Like Son' Review: Poignantly exploring nature vs. nurture

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Like Father, Like Son

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With his thoughtful, humanist approach to his subject matter, acclaimed Japanese filmmaker, Kore-eda Hirokazu weaves a rich tapestry of themes regarding raising a child in his poignant, “Like Father, Like Son.” Wrestling with his own personal thoughts of what it takes to be a good father, Kore-eda adds another layer of internal conflict – what if the son you have been raising for the past six years isn’t your son and had been switched at birth?

Winning the Jury Award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Audience awards at the Sao Paulo and Vancouver International Film Festivals, “Like Father, Like Son” is deservedly a crowd-pleaser.

Opening on a school interview for 6-year-old Keita (Keita Ninomiya) and his posh, professional parents, Ryota (popular Japanese singer/actor Fukuyama Masaharu) and his dutiful wife Midori (Ono Machiko), it becomes apparent that Ryota is highly driven in work and expects nothing but the best for and from his energetic young son and wife.

Then a phone call. The hospital where Keita was born calls to say that there was a mix-up, and Keita was switched with another baby six years ago. The two families must come in to discuss.

Ryota is quick to form judgments against the other parents, working class Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari (Maki Yoko). Yudai and Yukari live in a cramped space behind Yudai’s appliance store and have two other children in addition to 6-year-old Ryusei (Shogen Hwang). Another thorn in Ryota’s side is that Yudai and Yukari pose frank questions and observations; plus their children seem happy. More than anyone, the cool and calculated Ryota is shaken up by this turn of events.

Similar to his other films depicting family life, “Nobody Knows,” “Still Walking” and “I Wish,” Kore-eda makes everyday family themes profound. In this case, it’s not as much about which child will live with which family, but more of an internal quest to become a good father. Fukuyama, Ono, Maki, and Lily offer strong performances in regards to the varied facets of parenting. Likewise the two young boys, Keita and Shogen, are authentically charming as the two confused boys.

Viewers who might jump to write off “Like Father, Like Son” as something from an overwrought movie-of-the-week genre, would be sadly mistaken. In fact, Cannes Jury member, Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks optioned the remake rights this past summer after viewing at Cannes.

The extremely moving nature vs. nurture examination in Kore-eda Hirokazu’s “Like Father, Like Son” makes viewers think about their own parenting roles, or of parents in general, long after the final credits roll.

“Like Father, Like Son” opens January 24, 2014 in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre and in Pasadena at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7.

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