Movie review: ‘Like Father, Like Son’: a moving switched-at-birth tale

SEATTLE TIMESMarch 7, 2014 

  • LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON ••• 1/2•

    Rated: Not rated, for mature audiences. Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki, Franky Lily. Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda. Running time: 120 minutes. Theater: Flicks. In Japanese with English subtitles.

A married couple sit in silence, grappling with the terrible truth they have just learned: their bright-eyed 6-year-old child, Keita, is not their biological son, but was switched at birth with another baby at the hospital. “Why didn’t I see it?” the wife, Midori (Machiko Ono) finally asks, in soft anguish. “I’m his mother.”

Those three words are at the root of “Like Father, Like Son,” a moving drama about parenthood from Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (“I Wish,” “Nobody Knows”). Midori and her husband, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), a well-off couple who live in a sleek high-rise, soon come to meet the other couple involved: the easygoing Yukai (Franky Lily) and his wife, Yukari (Yoko Maki), who live in a working-class neighborhood with their three small children, including Midori and Ryota’s biological son, Ryusei.

Differences are quickly apparent: Ryota, a workaholic perfectionist, is obsessed with how the mistake could have been made; Yukai focuses on the potential settlement money. Meanwhile, Midori and Yukari eye each other fearfully. “Is there a manual for this situation?,” the latter dryly asks.

No one here is a villain — even the nurse responsible for the switch is sympathetic — but every character is nuanced.

Ryota, a somewhat absent father who has high expectations for his son, comes to realize how much he treasures the child even in the absence of blood ties; Yukai, who initially seems to be taking it all rather lightly, is heartbreaking as he tersely asks Ryota, “Please fly kites with Ryusei.”

And Ono, the quiet soul of the movie, has some beautiful scenes: one wordless, as she sadly fits her hand into her child’s plaster handprint, and another on a train, as she wistfully asks Keita, “Shall the two of us run away together? Somewhere nobody knows?”

The film ends gently, without firm answers, but we sense that these children — and parents — have found their home.

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