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Movie Review: Like Father, Like Son

Japanese award winner looks at meaning of fatherhood (Our grade: B)
Like Father, Like Son
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 120 min
MPAA rating: Unrated
Release Date: 2014-01-17
Tags: movies, movies360
By "Charles Ealy"
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman

Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu says that he has often wondered what it means to be a father, especially after the birth of his daughter more than five years ago. He says he saw his wife almost transform instantly into a mother, but that while he was happy to have a daughter, he also felt a bit distant from it all.

So the director says he began to think about whether sharing the same blood makes you a father, or whether it’s the time that you spend with your child that really makes you a father.

It’s not an unusual notion — nature vs. nurture. But the director started writing a screenplay that would highlight this question by establishing two families who learn after raising two boys for six years that their children were switched at birth by the hospital.

The movie opens with a relatively wealthy family headed by Nonomiya Ryota (Fukuyama Masaharu) and his wife Midori (Ono Machiko). They live in an apartment above Tokyo and have a beautiful son named Keita. Ryota is hard-working and appears to be rising as an engineer/architect at a prominent firm. But he spends way too much time away from his family, and he often arrives home late. He also seems to be distant from his son, partly because he thinks the boy isn’t as aggressive and competitive as he should be.

Then the parents get a phone call from the hospital, and they learn that Keita isn’t their biological son. Instead, their actual son is living with a lovable pair of bumpkins on the outskirts of a city near Tokyo.

For Ryota, his disappointment in Keita’s lack of competitiveness begins to make sense. But his wife is horrified that he’s reacting this way, as if he doesn’t love Keita.

Predictably, the two families meet, and a culture clash ensues. Ryota looks down on the other family, where the father, Saiki Yudai (Lily Franky), lacks ambition and is content to tinker with toys while working as a shopkeeper. He and his wife (Maki Yoko) have two other children, and they’re all rambunctious and somewhat money-grubbing, especially when they figure out that the hospital might have to pay them for putting them through a nightmare.

The two families don’t know what to do. But Ryota, who comes from a long line of people who think blood trumps all, backs a plan that will gradually have the two families swap children for a few weekends and see how things go. And before long, the two families make the swap permanent.

Predictably, the problems are just beginning. And the problems aren’t with the children. They rest squarely with Ryota, who never bonded with Keita and isn’t bonding with his biological son, either.

At this point, “Like Father, Like Son” begins to get more interesting, as the wealthy father starts learning something about himself. He really isn’t anyone’s father, and never has been. And when he finally awakens to the truth, it’s emotionally moving to watch the breakdown.

It might all sound a bit too pat. And in some ways, it is. But the performances and subtle directing in the latter part of the film make “Like Father, Like Son” a thoughtful, graceful meditation on fatherhood.

The movie, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, took home the Jury Prize, which is basically third place among the films in competition. (“Blue Is the Warmest Color” won the Palme d’Or, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” won the Grand Prix.)

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February 20, 2014 - Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman - Charles Ealy

Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu says that he has often wondered what it means to be a father, especially after the birth of his daughter more than five years ago. He says he saw his wife almost transform instantly into a mother, but that while he was happy to have a daughter, he also felt a bit distant from it all.

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