What makes a man a father? That is the fundamental question at the core of writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s thought-provoking, quietly moving drama film Like Father, Like Son. While biological fatherhood is important, of course, it can be argued that raising from an early age a child who is not one’s biological offspring also creates that special bond between father and child.
In the movie under consideration, a couple learns that, due to an error—or was it really?—at the hospital that saw two children being switched at birth, the boy they have been raising is actually not their biological son. The narrative then explores the effects of that shocking revelation on everyone involved. Because the story is set in Japan, cultural differences must be taken into consideration, but even so the theme of the film has an undeniable universality to it.
As someone who doesn’t have kids, I found it easy to appreciate Like Father, Like Son. I can only imagine how much more poignant the movie must be for viewers who are parents themselves. There are no easy ways out of the situation that the film presents, but there is, Kore-eda suggests, light at the end of the tunnel.
Like Father, Like Son gives off a documentary vibe. The narrative unfolds in a gracefully organic way and doesn’t contain a single element that feels contrived. Kore-eda takes an objective, slightly distant approach to the material, which de-emphasizes the fact that this is a fictional account, but he does so without forsaking the emotional power of the story he is telling. At times, however, the filmmakers’ use of piano cues to underscore what the viewer is supposed to be feeling during certain scenes conflicts with the subtlety and restraint that characterize the lion’s share of the movie.
The cast members deliver completely natural performances. As Ryota Nonomiya, Masaharu Fukuyama captures every last nuance of his complex character, making him unsympathetic at first and then increasingly likable as the movie goes on. Equally emotive is Machiko Ono in the role of Midori Nonomiya, Ryota’s wife. Yôko Maki and Rirî Furankî do solid supporting turns as Yukari Saiki and Yudai Saiki, respectively, the other two parents affected by what happened at the hospital. The excellent child actors Shôgen Hwang, who portrays Ryusei Saiki, and Keita Ninomiya, who plays Keita Nonomiya, leave quite an impression thanks to their almost perfectly modulated acting.
(Original title: Soshite chichi ni naru.)