Japan’s greatest living director (for my money), Hirokazu Kore-Eda returns with a feature which seeks the definition of family. Set in modern-day Japan, the film paints in patient brush strokes the uneasy association between two families who unexpectedly learn they’ve been raising the other’s son for the past six years. Although the film displays very traditional Japanese family values, the themes found within can be related to universally. It seems hard to believe that a hospital could give someone the wrong child, but it has actually happened several times in real life. As you can imagine, this is absolutely devastating news to both Ryota and Midori who have spent six years carefully raising a child turns out to not actually be their own.
Kore-eda handles this material in his typically gentle, methodically paced style. The end result is a film of unforced profundity, one that wisely implies that mere biology means little in the face of complicated human emotions. That Kore-eda’s able to offer even a faint glimmer of hope while staying true to the tenuous nature of such a relationship is further proof of his unique talent. Like Father Like Son doesn’t try to find out which family raises its son the best but rather simply aims at being a celebration of love.
As the two families begin to intermingle, they decide to exchange the boys for weekends on a trial basis, each family gets a chance to see a different way of living. Most significantly, in the context of the film, each boy and father gets to experience an alternate relationship. Tender and moving at times, light and humorous at others, the film seems repetitive and monotonous in its two-hour duration, while attempting to reach a conclusion which could have been reached much earlier on. Perhaps that flaw is what keeps it from being one of the best films I’ve seen in years…
Koreeda continues to excel with Like Father, Like Son. The drama in Kore-eda’s film is subtler and quieter, its surfaces relatively placid yet nonetheless coursing with underlying tensions. This is the eclectic Japanese director working in his Yasujiro Ozu-like Still Walking mode, and that is all to the good in this case. As a whole, the film is an excellent display of storytelling as it takes a rather basic premise and turns it into the emotionally complex film that it is. Just be preparing for the film to overstay it’s welcome just a smidge.