If you look purely at the plot of Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son, a melodrama about two families that discover that their six year old sons had been switched at birth, you might think the movie ends up going exactly where you thought it would go. This is the first movie by Koreeda that I’ve seen, but I am very well aware of his reputation as one of the best Japanese directors working today. I found Like Father, Like Son to be a character study, almost a therapy session on the nature of becoming and identifying oneself as a father (or a son). And on that count, there is no denying Koreeda’s talent.
Although the movie explores the inner lives of the parents and children of both families, the movie has one clear protagonist. Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), a thirty-something upper middle class architect, goes through a character journey that I would dare to say is probably the one the director had in mind when he wrote the movie. I am not a father (I’m almost unquestionably too young for that), so I can’t fully put myself in Ryota’s shoes. I have, however, thought about the possibility of becoming a father in the future, and my reactions have always been.. complex, to say the least.
As much as genetics are concerned in the creation of a new life, there is always an element of uncertainty in how the child is going to be like. And in the responsibility of raising him (or her) to be a competent and healthy human being. Movies like Rosemary’s Baby and We Need to Talk About Kevin have looked at this fear from a more stylized and unrealistic point of view. Like Father, Like Son takes a much more down-to-earth approach, works almost as a dissertation in the values of good parenthood, and in the Japanese tradition of Yasujiro Ozu, does so with incredible grace and patience.
Koreeda’s focus on character over plot makes itself manifest through scenes of family routine and small moments that reveal the type of parenting that is going on with every member of each family. Ryota is a man focused on work and in excellence. He does very well financially. On the other hand, the Saiki family depends on a hardware store as the family business. While issues of class do play a role in the movie, Koreeda goes out of its way to not make any kind of silly argument like saying that the only the poorer family is capable of truly loving their children and be good parents. If anything, the whole purpose of the movie is showing that there are many ways of showing love; that the most important thing is doing so.
In case you were wondering, the acting is fantastic all around. Especially by the two children. I mean, I don’t speak Japanese, but, I think those were some pretty fantastic, natural performances coming from six-year-olds. If I have something to nitpick about the film, is that its deliberately slow pace is maybe a little too slow. It’s not that the scenes move slowly, but that the movie takes perhaps too much time to make its point. It is two hours long, but actually feels longer.
The movie deservedly won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The president of the jury was Steven Spielberg, who has focused a lot on father-son stories throughout his career, and has already secured the rights to direct the American remake. I’m not sure if that information is relevant to you, but I would surely recommend you don’t wait for Spielberg’s version, since Koreeda’s is already pretty great.
Grade: 8 out of 10