Like Father, Like Son


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Like Father, Like Son
"Shuttling back and forth between the families, Like Father, Like Son scrutinises words, deeds, allegiances."

Hirokazu Kore-eda's Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru) is an urgent film about love - not the love of parents for their children, but of the children's love for those who raise them.

"What is your favourite season?" seems a suitable question to ask a six-year-old when determining school placement. If the way he answers could be a factor in his parents' decision to get rid of him and exchange him for another six-year-old boy, we are on the emotional continent Hirokazu Kore-eda maps out for us. Like Father, Like Son is the unsettling story of babies swapped in the hospital, and the way two families deal with the discovery six years later. The theme of nature versus nurture for what it means to be a parent, and the extreme consequences of binary decision making in this matter have been explored by, among others, Krzysztof Kieslowski in the Dekalog. Kore-eda blends elements of Decalogue One with Four.

An extraordinarily angelic little boy, named Keita, is the screen that reflects the parental sentiments surrounding him. He is the tender anchor in a film in which metaphors of flight reign supreme. With him, we build a "cute monster" out of a floating plastic bag that he nudges into the air, like an Andy Warhol pillow, while wearing a numbered shirt competing for a spot in the school his successful over-worked father chose for him. Japanese superstar Masaharu Fukuyama plays Ryota as a driven man who wants his son to be like him. When he discovers that Keita does not share his blood, his first response reveals an icy bitterness neither his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) nor the audience will easily forget.

The parents who raised their biological son, (played by Yôko Maki and Lily Franky as the "lazy" father wearing a lot of mixed plaid) are considered of a lower social class, messy, and generous with time rather than money. When the father points out that their children aren't pets, the mother corrects him that "you wouldn't exchange pets either, would you?"

Shuttling back and forth between the families, Like Father, Like Son scrutinises words, deeds, allegiances. Exchanging boys for the weekend, exposes the routines and little Keita in his elk pajamas, so much smaller than his counterpart, takes on the "mission", as Ryota tells him to do, as a "strategy to get stronger and grow up." While the other boy practices in the bathtub how to hold his chopsticks properly, Keita interacts with his two new siblings and has his toy robot repaired by the other father. Mothers doubt their maternal instincts, the months go by.

We hear that cases haven't happened much since the Sixties, when hospitals stopped writing with magic markers on the babies' soles and that in over 90 per cent of the cases the parents switch to their biological child. This is not a documentary, and Kore-eda, who also wrote the script, might have used these "facts" more to inform us about the lawyers who say them to the distraught families.

"Now it all makes sense," will likely not be your response. Despite trains passing in Japanese landscapes and feisty, gossipy, unpredictable women in supporting roles, Like Father, Like Son has none of the outer calm and inner turmoil of an Ozu film.

Steven Spielberg is said to be involved in initiating an American remake at DreamWorks after he saw the film at Cannes where he was president of the jury that awarded the film the Prix du Jury. If the fathers and sons played it just a touch cuter, and the soundtrack gave excitable instructions, this kite wouldn't fly.

Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2013
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When he discovers his baby boy was accidentally swapped with another at birth, whom he has raised and loved, a wealthy businessman must decide which one he truly feels is his son.
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Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Yôko Maki, Jun Kunimura

Year: 2013

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Japan

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