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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Like Father, Like Son (2013)

Hirokazu Kore-eda is a filmmaker who has a wonderful knack for exploring family dynamics and themes that somehow always feels relevant, real and distinct with his quiet, contemplative style. Like Father, Like Son is another example of his important and intriguing catalogue of family-driven dramas that are consistently well-rounded from both child and parent perspectives.

Like Father, Like Son focuses primarily on Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), a successful architect focused more on his career than on his family life, unintentionally neglecting his wife Midori (Machiko Ono) and their son Keita. One day though, the hospital with which Midori gave birth at, contacts them about an urgent matter. They soon find out that their son Keita is actually not their own, and was accidentally swapped with another baby. They end up meeting the couple Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari Saiki (Yoko Maki) with their biological son Ryusei and begin the process of integrating into each other’s lives with the inevitability of having to swap children.

The dilemmas and moral implications of each family are explored with a keen eye that has become so adept in unpacking family dynamics and the challenges found within extraordinary moments like this. The whole idea of abandoning a 6 year relationship with your son is devastating for any parent and confusing for the children, but due to the vastly different circumstances of both families, it brings up a moral dilemma for the viewer as well. Ryota and Midori live in a far more financially comfortable situation, while Yudai and Yukari have a larger family far less stable financially in their lives, living on the poorer side of the spectrum. However, the financial status doesn’t reflect the happiness and emotional stability provided for the children. The Yukai’s are happy, fun and incredibly loving to each of their children, even with the arrival of their biological son who is essentially a stranger. The Nonomiya’s struggle to bond with their biological son, with Ryota continuing to not see this as a fresh new start and continuing to neglect both biological and non-biological sons. Is financial stability and career more important than your family? Is your child’s happiness and emotional well-being a non-priority in the basis of a more stable future for them? Does blood lineage outweigh bonds already formed?

Questions like these allow for Kore-eda to challenge his characters at every turn, from the actual parents to what the children want: which is that of love and attention. Seeing Keita receive the special kind of love and attention not experienced so frequently from his non-biological parents is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, while Ryusei’s boredom and disinterest in his biological parents in their fancy penthouse give a clear insight into the mindset of an emotionally happy child. A family snapshot of both families together paints a clear portrait of these vastly different families: one is playing around, smiling and irreverent, while the other is more rigid and still. It’s a moment that could feel quite on the nose but it isn’t thanks to Kore-eda’s natural ability to capture nuanced moments of humanity and sincerity.

Kore-eda never opts for flashy technical gimmicks in his films, his primary focus is and always will be his characters and the relationships they have with each other. He makes some of the most stunning works that study the very ins and outs of what makes a family a family. The level of authenticity and chemistry between each cast member feels every bit as real as the relationships with our own families. Even though his films mostly follow Japanese families in Japan, they could easily be our own, with each interaction and emotion being universally relevant regardless of location and ethnicity. His latest film, The Truth is a prime example of his ideas and observations expanding past the cultural differences of Japan and into France (his first film not in Japanese).

Because of this intrinsic talent of exploring the very essence of what makes each family tick in their differences and circumstances, Kore-eda’s ensemble casts are always phenomenal. Each performer is always tailored perfectly to each other, with chemistry that feels entirely genuine, relatable and believable. The biggest highlight for a majority of his films is also being able to get natural and touching performances from child actors. In my opinion, he is the best in the world at this, with each moment feeling like we aren’t watching a movie but actually dropping in on real people’s lives. The experienced older actors in these films also do a wonderful job of guiding and helping these performers make us believe in each passing moment, thought and emotion.

Like Father, Like Son won the Jury Prize at 2013’s Cannes Film Festival (later going on to receive the Palm d’Or for his masterpiece Shoplifters) and is a towering showcase of Kore-eda as one of the finest filmmakers on the planet that still seems to pass under everyone’s radar. He isn’t the flashiest in terms of technical aesthetics, but his ability to capture and evoke moments of nuanced human emotion puts him in a special league of filmmakers such as Yasujiro Ozu and Hou Hsiao-Hsien just to name a few. Like Father, Like Son is as rewarding as a film can get for both the heart and soul.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA, UK, Austrailia)

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