Calgary International Film Festival 2013 - Like Father, Like Son

Posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Review Type: Festival

Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる)

Review by Christopher Lee

A selection in the 2013 Calgary International Film Festival’s Master Series, the Japanese film ‘Like Father, Like Son’ is a compelling family drama centering around two contrasting households that have recently learned that their sons were switched at birth. Created by veteran film director Hirokazu Koreeda, inadvertently inspired by his own transition to fatherhood.

Enter the Nonomiya family, with father Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), mother Midori (Machiko Ono) and 6-year-old son Keita (Keita Ninomiya). They are an upper middle class Tokyo family with a posh apartment and their son Keita just got accepted into a prestigious elementary school. The Saiki family is a working class household living in the suburbs, where father Yudai (Lily Franky) is light hearted and humble, mother Yukari (Yoko Maki) is sensible and compassionate, with three mischievous children, including switched son Ryusei (Shogen Hwang). The distinction between the families is formulaic, where the Ninomiya’s are uptight, achievement oriented, and a little snobbish compared to the Saiki family, who are easy-going, unrefined, and are remarkably happier.

Imagine being forced to choose between nature and nurture. What if your child was swapped at birth? What is more important, the one you’ve raised for 6 years or your true biological blood-related child? And if you do not have children, would you ever trade your pet? The plot takes us through the process where the Ninomiya family and Saiki family attempt to find the best solution; children are traded, emotions run high, fights break out, tears are shed. The nuances are in the differences between each family’s way of dealing and adapting within the same situation.

Koreeda also takes a shot at Japan’s working culture, where the typical salaryman is overworked with little or no down-time for personal enjoyments, such as spending time with your own children. Ryota is characterized as a workaholic who has been promising his wife for 6 years that when the next work project is complete, he’ll finally have more free time (which we all know will never happen).

‘Like Father, Like Son’ follows your average feel good Japanese family drama, ups and downs, happy ending included. The mood throughout is tense and depressing, however the scenes that really shine are during the shared moments between the families. These playful scenes feel sincere and genuine and the reason this comes together is because of the supporting cast, notably the children. Keita-kun pulls off a truly adorable performance as the theatre giggled and cooed at his every gesture. Both women, Midori and Yukari’s characters were inimitable and evoked empathy from the audience. Father Yudai’s laugh was infectious and honest.

As the film moves forward, you start to notice that you are getting pulled in too many directions, as it attempts to cover too much ground. This script would be more suitable for a Japanese TV Drama series rather than a feature film. For example, scenes involving the emotional legal battle against the hospital and nurse could have an entire hour to itself. The few minutes devoted to it was meant to be significant moments in the film, however the audience ends up with more questions than answers. ‘Like Father, Like Son’ couldn’t stay focused on a major theme, struggling to choose an identity in either Ryota, Keita, or Midori. It was only about ¾ of through the film, did it finally settle on Ryota’s storyline; centering on his evolution from never-home arrogant father to becoming a man that ultimately realizes the importance of connecting with his own child. Understandably, Ryota was the most complex, however, stone-cold Masaharu Fukuyama never seems to bring out the necessary expressions to get the audience to relate, rendering Ryota as a character that is plainly going through the motions in the storyline.

Koreeda put together an enjoyable and entertaining film; it was the amusing and heartfelt moments shared between the families that help lift this film from average to good.

Reviewed at the Calgary International Film Festival 2013 (Repeat screening on Friday, September 27 19:15PM @ Eau Claire)

Calgary International Film Festival 2013 >
Like Father, Like Son (Japanese) >



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