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Film review: Like Father, Like Son gives parents the choice of a lifetime

Yvonne Teh

 

Like Father, Like Son
Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Keita Ninomiya, Lily Franky
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Category: I (Japanese)

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Considering that it's two hours long, Like Father, Like Son has a surprisingly simple story, and its biggest plot twist takes place 10 minutes into the film. And it is quite a bombshell: two sets of parents are told by hospital officials where their six-year-old sons were born that they were given the wrong baby.

So Keita (Keita Ninomiya) - the cherubic boy that ambitious architect Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) and his homemaker wife Midori (Machiko Ono) had been raising as their son - turns out to be the biological offspring of small electrical goods store owner Yudai Saiki (Lily Franky) and his wife Yukari (Yoko Maki). They in turn had thought that they were the birth parents of the rambunctious lad who turns out to be the Nonomiyas' biological progeny, Ryusei (Shogen Hwang).

After they find out what happened, Ryota, Midori, Yudai and Yukari have to decide whether to keep the children they left the hospital with, or exchange the two boys. Although urged to make the switch, and sooner rather than later, by hospital officials, both sets of parents decide against doing so immediately.

Complicating matters for the Nonomiyas and Saikis is that they don't agree about parenting styles, due to their different socioeconomic backgrounds.

All four parents gradually realise they genuinely care about the two children who were born on the same day, and want what's best for them. But the question remains as to what's the best thing to do now that they've found themselves in a sticky situation, with various people weighing in with different opinions on how to deal with the matter.

A well-made drama that unfolds at a pace that never seems too slow or overly rushed, Like Father, Like Son makes use of many small details to build up three-dimensional portraits of the characters.

Director-scriptwriter-editor Hirokazu Koreeda is gentle in his treatment of a subject matter that lesser talents would handle in a more melodramatic manner.

Added interest comes from the way that Koreeda makes the film's primary adult character the least sympathetic of the four parents faced with the decision as to what to do (or not do) with their young sons.

The filmmaker deserves praise for eliciting wonderful performances from a cast that includes preteens, an actor better known as a singer-songwriter-musician (Masaharu Fukuyama), and another who is best-known by the female pen-name under which he wrote such as his bestselling autobiography, Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad (Lily Franky).

Although some may find the first two-thirds of this Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner too low key, it successfully builds up to a climax and resolution that's both emotionally and philosophically satisfying.

yvonne.teh@scmp.com

 

Like Father, Like Son opens on October 31

 

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