Would you choose your natural son, or the son you believed was yours after spending 6 years together? One day Ryota and his wife get an unexpected phone call from the hospital. Their 6-year-old son, Keita, is not ‘their’ son… Ryota is forced to make a life-changing decision.
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Koreeda explores not just the nature of parental love but of filial love, and as the painful alienated past of Ryota comes to light… It’s a testimony to Fukuyama’s acting skills that as pig-headedly alienating as the character can be, he never becomes a complete turn-off. That’s also a testimony to the way Koreeda presents the situation; while the perspective is never not clear-headed, the abject heartbreak of the scenario is ever present.
Little Keita Ninomiya plays Keita with such tenderness, while Fukuyama makes Ryota harsh at first, and fills in each step of the man’s progress with precision. By the end, he’s earned sympathy, and "Like Father, Like Son’’ has earned its right to reduce a person to a sobbing wreck.
It's Capraesque in its simplicity, but fuck it, we could use some Capra. Six years into a deep economic slump, a time when you'll regularly see asshole pundits on TV slagging the poor, Kore-Eda's film makes the beautifully simple argument (in tribute to Ozu) that everyone could be everyone else's family. It gets by on the sort of sentimentality that would seem schmaltzy if it weren't so delicate. But delicate it is.
Kore-Eda explores here the issue of social construction of family ties and he does this with a calm maturity that proves effortlessly thought-provoking and unsentimentaly engaging. Exploring tensions underneath the conflict-free zone of Japanese etiquette and morals is an instructive essay in itself, yet cinematically the milieu-driven shots of urbanity or nature have minimal impact beyond the conventional film form.
"Kore-eda draws out a situation whose emotional complexity does not ask for narrative elaboration. ... But the sentimentality that flows easily from the script glows within the mise en scène, leaving the characters understood but unjudged, the final effect like a good dessert: sweet but not too much so." - Daniel Kasman, Mubi Notebook
Those complaining about the characters' conduct may be imposing their foreign sensibilities. I find Kore-eda's films piercingly intimate in their portrayals of Japanese families, sometimes painfully so. That's a compliment. But instead of the contrived courtroom twist, I'd have preferred a challenge among the families (say one boy had a congenital illness, or one family did not want either child).
A delicately handled, what-would-you-do, uptight-v-loose, money-v-time, supremely tearjerking look at Japanese cultural expectations. The halfway twist is rushed, poorly explained and ultimately adds nothing, but otherwise this is classic tissue ruining stuff. A sequel, perhaps 10 years later, picking through the psychological fallout for all the characters, would be very welcome. (4.5)
If you are an Indonesian, you will be familiar with this switched-at-birth theme on soap operas, which is also the theme for this film. However, ––not to compare Indonesian soap operas and this film–– 'Like Father, Like Son' brings a new perspective to the theme. It is very beautiful, yet simple. If there is anyone out there who are not touched by this film, you should question yourself.