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Like Father, Like Son

Switched at birth. It’s a common nightmare for parents, the thought that the infant they brought home from the maternity ward may not be the one actually born to the mother, so much so that the phrase has been used for three TV movies and one series in the past two decades.

I don’t know how often it actually happens in the US, but there were apparently a spate of such cases in Japan some decades ago. This new film by Hirokazu Kore-eda imagines the effects of such an event on two couples in modern Japan. The Nonomiyas are a successful couple with one son. Father Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a rising architect who works long hours. He is determined that his six-year-old son Keita be given the best opportunities in life, and that he work to take advantage of them. We first see them during Keita’s admission interview for a private academy; as they leave we learn that the child’s answers had been fed to him at a “cram school” that prepares children for such tests.

The Saikis are a blue-collar bunch with a handful of children-it’s hard to tell how many because they’re always running around playing. At the first meeting to sort out what will be done, his first question is how much the hospital will pay in damages. But despite this, he seems to be the better father.

The bulk of the film concerns Ryota, whose personal flaws and insecurities are brought into the open by the unfortunate situation. His own upbringing was unhappy; the knowledge that Keita is not his biological son feeds his suspicions that the boy is, perhaps, not worthy of him.

Like Father, Like Son has an admirer in Steven Spielberg, who is planning an American remake. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to use more than the basic situation because so much of what we see here is culturally based. Writer-director Kore-eda has spent two decades making films that largely explore family dynamics, most memorably 2004’s Nobody Knows, about children left in an apartment to fend for themselves. If the resolution of the story is obvious, it is arrived at carefully, almost surgically. (The musical score is confined to solo piano, including Bach’s Goldberg Variations.) Known in Japan as a pop singer, Fukuyama gives a moving performance, but there is fine work from all the principles, including the child actors.

Watch the trailer for Like Father, Like Son

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