Like Father, Like Son (opening today and playing for one week only at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak) is an import from Japan, from a director known for telling compelling family dramas. This film takes a cliched premise - of babies being switched at birth - and infuses it with a deep meditation on the very meaning of what it is to be a parent.
Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a man living an upper-class life, driven by ambition and his will to succeed. He instills the same principals in his son, Keita, who is raised with the highest of expectations. Ryota receives a call and makes a shocking discovery: His six-year-old boy Keita is not really his, switched at birth with another family. What do you do in such a situation?
That question is at the center of the film. Of course, his real son, Ryusei, is being raised by parents that are polar opposites of Ryota. They are loud and laid-back. They are not nearly as well-off.
Many describe this film as an examination of "nature vs. nurture," but the film is really a character study of a stubborn and unfaltering man who must choose his path in life, limited by the path his own parents set him on. Fukuyama gives a mesmerizing performance and the somewhat tired material is never treated as such.
How can you just give away a child that you have raised as your own for six years? In every way - other than biological - this child is family, right? It's not a debate that the film tries to answer in any conclusive way.
Don't mistake the slow pace of Like Father, Like Son for it being banal. It is a movie that wants to exist on an intellectual level, presenting the viewer with tough decisions as we quarterback from the sidelines. Despite the gimmicky premise, it mostly succeeds.
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki, Riri Furanki
Written and Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (I Wish, Air Doll, Still Walking, Hanna, Distance, After Life)
Opens locally on Friday, Feb 21, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time