Overview: Two families discover that their six year-old sons were switched at birth. 2013. Unrated. 121 Minutes.
Like Ozu: Like Father, Like Son focuses on the dynamics of family, and revisits similar themes that director Hirokazu Kore-eda has explored in his previous films (Nobody Knows, Still Walking, I Wish). He is the contemporary equivalent of Yasujirô Ozu, the legendary Japanese director, whose films from the 1930s to the early 1960s focused on the dynamics of Japanese families.
Families: Ryota is a successful businessman and enjoys a comfortable life with his wife Midori and quiet son Keita. Ryota doesn’t spend much time with Keita because of work, but has high expectations for Keita’s future. Yudai is a shopkeeper and enjoys a modest life with his wife Yukari and three children, including their energetic son Ryusei. He spends a lot of time at home with his three children, and believes in a fun, family oriented environment.
Everything these two families have known for six years is torn down and taken from them when they learn that Keita and Ryusei were accidentally switched at birth. After the initial shock, the two families meet and agree to periodically assimilate the children into each other’s families, in the hopes of switching the children back to their biological family in the future. This plot device allows Kore-eda to utilize the family situation as a vehicle to explore an array of subjects: class, social status, nature vs. nurture, child rearing, and the effects a career has on a family.
Fathers: The two fathers are from a different social class which leads to immediate issues in exchanging the children. If the children have already lived six years in one family would it be detrimental to their development to force them into a new way of life? Is there more of a benefit to the child growing up rich or poor? Ryota has plenty of money to provide to the child’s development, but little time. Yudai has little money to provide, but plenty of time. Is either way better than the other or do they both have their benefits?
Sons: At the heart of all of Kore-eda’s implied questions is the argument of nature vs. nurture. The two sons have lived the six years of their life knowing one family. By nurture, their father is their father, and their mother is their mother. They know what they know. To be suddenly told that they must now live with a family that they don’t view as their parents is a shock to them, and not something they will easily accept. By nature, the family that they know is not genetically their family, but Kore-eda shows that nature and biological ties alone cannot create the family they need.
Final Thoughts: Like Father, Like Son is an interesting and thoughtful family drama. Kore-eda continues to establish himself as one of the leading Japanese auteurs and show his tremendous skills in presenting and examining family and children dynamics in film.
Grade: A –