Don’t miss ‘Like Father, Like Son’ a terrific Japanese film (yes, there are English subtitles)

The two families caught up in the drama of 'Like Father, Like Son'
The two families caught up in the drama of ‘Like Father, Like Son’

It’s a question that will be debated, probably forever.  Is it nature or nurture that makes the father of a son?  Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent film won a Jury Prize at Cannes exploring this question using an interesting device.

Like Father, Like Son opens with six year old “Keita” (Keita Nimomiya) going through the ritual that is competing for a place in the entering class at a prestigious private school in Japan.  He’s been prepped, tutored and grilled until he knows exactly what to say.  Even if that means saying something he doesn’t believe or feel.  His father “Ryota” (Masaharu Fukuyama) is an alum of this particular school and he’s doing quite well in his career.  Although his wife “Midori” (Machiko Ono) wishes he spent more time with her and Keita.  Even at the rare moments when he is home, he’s usually focused on work.

The rural hospital where Midori insisted on giving birth (so she wouldn’t be alone all the time) calls and wants to meet with the couple.  At that meeting they learn that Keita and another child were “switched at birth” (yes, that’s a current U. S. family drama series on cable) and the hospital, Keita’s parents and the parents of the other child need to work together to find a resolution.  In all previous situations like this, the families ultimately switched children.

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Masaharu Fukuyama and Machiko Ono look at a photo of their biological son in ‘Like Father, Like Son’

The other couple is “Yudai” (Lily Frankly) and “Yukari” (Yoko Maki).  Their son is “Ryusei” (Shogen Hwang) and they have two other, younger children.  Yudai is a definite contrast to Ryota, owning a small appliance shop where he ekes out a living fixing things and selling light bulbs.  He and his family live on the second floor of the building above the shop.  Yudai appears to be much more interested in how much money he can get from the hospital and how much free food he can enjoy in the process.

Discovery of this switch understandably causes much tension between the people involved.  Midori believes Ryota blames her, thinking that she should have known instinctively.  He blames himself but also sees the switch as being the reason that Keita is not the son he anticipated.  Ryusei and Keita are very different children, and they have very different reactions when they begin spending time with each other’s “parents.”  Ryota has a plan of his own about what will happen to the two boys.

This is a beautiful film that easily engrosses the audience.  Rather than being another in the endless supply of films from and about Japan that focus on the samurai, geishas and combat, it is about modern people and contemporary issues.  Like previous films from Hirokazu Koreeda, Like Father, Like Son is about the lives of families and how difficult, interesting, and enjoyable they can be.  This is a must see.

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