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Like Father, Like Son - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Like Father, Like Son
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Some cultures are largely alien to Americans, and one wonders how Like Father, Like Son plays to audiences in its native Japan compared to audiences in the U.S. Surely it's meant as an ultimately heartwarming family tale in either case, but the emotional process by which that goal is met likely varies.

This is about two couples who find out their babies were switched at birth six years ago. Objectively, how this affects all four parents would be equally compelling, but here, the women take a definitive back seat in the story. To be fair, the two moms are presented as fairly modern and independent, and generally do not behave as particularly subservient. But they do prove to be very subservient in subtle ways, not least of which is their apparent lack of any say regarding whether or not they get to keep the child she's been raising for six years.

On the surface, the primary character is uber-ambitious Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), and ultimately his destiny is to learn how to be a better father. His wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), is understandably reeling at the news regarding her son, but displays no similar issues of parenting in general; she ultimately serves as a mirror for her husband. The same can be said of the other dad, the older Yudai (Rirî Furankî), who first comes on strong with his working-class obsession with damages from the hospital, but happens to be a doting father to his three kids. Like Midori, Yudai's wife Yujkari (Yôko Maki) is comparatively sensible.

Regardless, the problem they face is a difficult one for any person, and makes for a uniquely compelling story. Sure, it's far from the first switched-at-birth story (a recent very good one is The Other Son, in which babies were switched between Israeli and Palestinian families), but this does have its own angle. First of all, the issue comes up with the children at the age of six, and poses some really difficult questions of what is best for the boys as well as their respective families. Six years old is a seemingly very gray area when it comes to the children's adaptability, blood bonds and social bonds, and the parents' ability to make sense of it all after that many years.

How many years should it be, anyway? Where do you draw the line? A six-year-old is far from fully developed but is well old enough to have formed lasting memories. And how can a parent just discard the child they've been raising for that long? Like Father, Like Son goes a long way toward showing how difficult it can be to draw the line between what's right and what's easy, and how the two can both combine and diverge.

Ryota himself struggles with 20/20 hindsight, years of building frustration with a child who tries his best but cannot match the talents of his father. In a telling scene, the boy is at a piano recital, his performance definitively amateurish -- like any average child -- and then he is followed by a seeming prodigy. The mother feels for the boy and the father is embarrassed.

Much is discussed, of course, regarding how little the boys resemble the families they're with. Ryota in particular talks of how this dichotomy will be more pronounced as time goes on. At the misguided suggestion of a boss at work, Ryota's first idea is to take care of both the boys -- a bizarrely illogical suggestion by any measure. Yudai, the other father, is understandably offended by it, but he is apparently also a very forgiving man, as he and his wife happily continue with the regular meetings between the families, with the ultimate goal of exchanging the boys. Early on in the film, hospital personnel inform both the couples that 100% of families in their position ultimately exchange the kids. But at what age?

The premise makes Like Father, Like Son sound like a very sad movie, and it does indeed have a consistently melancholy tone. But it also has a healthy sprinkling of humor, and plenty of heart, which to a degree transcends its subtly subversive misogyny. The children are honestly not exactly prodigies as actors themselves, but that's fairly forgivable given their age. The grown-ups, while not exactly showy performers either -- there is the sense that a great deal of stoicism is merely cultural -- are more than competent. It all comes together well enough that ultimately we're offered a lovely, unique tale from an outsider perspective.

Masaharu Fukuyama and Keita Ninomiya have a thorny paternal situation in LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON.

Overall: B+
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