Masaharu FUKUYAMA (Scoop!) stars as a father who learns his 6-year-old child is not biologically his own in this bittersweet family drama from writer and director Hirokazu KOREEDA (After the Storm), which was released to critical acclaim and festival accolades in 2013 and can currently be found streaming via Hulu (in Japanese w/ English subtitles). Machiko ONO (Too Young to Die!), Lily Franky (Still Deeper than the Sea) and Yōko MAKI (Poison Berry in my Brain) round out the primary players, a pair of couples contending with the revelation that their children were switched at birth.
As the original title implies (soshite chichi ni naru – roughly and then I became father) Like Father, Like Son‘s emphasis is squarely on Fukuyama, as career-driven architect and so-so dad Nonomiya, throughout. Nonomiya’s parental anxiety is pushed to the fore once the film’s unusual narrative circumstances are put in motion – worries, in particular, that his son is not meeting his lofty expectations. That his son is revealed to be the biological offspring of a pair of distinctly working class shopkeepers provides an attractive out, an excuse that alleviates Nonomiya of his own parental responsibilities while aligning comfortably with his social prejudices. That his son exists elsewhere, estranged, means an opportunity to start over, to rebuild his family in his own blooded image, to achieve the ideal.
None of this goes as planned, of course, and as his own actions threaten to rend his family asunder Nonomiya is forced to reckon with his misplaced priorities and personal failings, to own up to his responsibility and finally become ‘dad’.
Like Father, Like Son is another tremendous work from Koreeda, a drama at once fresh and familiar and which maintains a sense of warmth and buoyancy even as it explores its darker eventualities. Koreeda’s screenwriting is as delicate as his direction, the stakes of his drama high, but its humanity palpable. Photographer Mikiya TAKIMOTO (Our Little Sister, website and portfolio here) puts the narrative’s corresponding visual preoccupations to the proverbial canvas, indelible images of economic divide – a spotless Tokyo penthouse contrasted with a choked street-level storefront, a Lexus four-door too long for its parking spot and a minivan scarcely large enough to need its own.
Fukuyama excels, in a film replete with laudable performances – you know you’re doing things right when such notables as Isao NATSUYAGI (The Land of Hope) and Jun FUBUKI (Seance) are filling out the bottom of your credited cast. Kirin KIKI (Sweet Bean) steals the picture in her brief appearances as Nonomiya’s mother-in-law, killing it at Wii tennis and waxing giddy about sweets. Still, it’s the children, leads Keita NINOMIYA and Shōgen HWANG and a handful of supporting tykes, who ultimately hold the show together. Koreeda allows Ninomiya and Hwang to behave as precisely what they are, primary school kids, and Like Father, Like Son is made all the better for it.
Like Father, Like Son is currently streaming via Hulu in Japanese with English subtitles, and is available for digital rental or purchase through Amazon.com as well. A domestic DVD edition is also available, through MPI Home Video.
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