New York Film Fest 2013 Review: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON Affectingly Re-examines Nature vs. Nurture
Ryota Nonomiya (Japanese TV star and pop idol, Fukuyama Masaharu) is a hard working architect who pushes his adorable, well-behaved son Keita a little too much to excel at everything. It's not that he doesn't love his son, but because he's always been pushing himself hard all his life to be successful- so naturally that's the way it is supposed to be with everyone around him. But married to his career, he doesn't have much time for his family. When he and his wife Midori (played wonderfully by Ono Machiko, Eureka, Mourning Forest) gets an urgent message about the switcheroo from the country hospital where Keita was born 6 years ago, their tranquil life gets turned upside down. They meet their counterparts, Saikis - Yudai (Franky Lily) and Yukari (Yoko Maki) a country bumpkin couple managing a small electrician's shop. They have three adorable children including Ryusei, Nonomiyas' real son. They happen to be a very loving, warm family. Both parties decide that it is best to switch them back before they get too old. Either way, it is going to be a scarring experience for both families.
In a funnily awkward scene, Ryota in his arrogance of the well-to-do, unknowingly insults the Saikis by offering money to take both children in. Astonished by this suggestion, Yudai, a little older than his counterpart, walks up to him and with a moment of hesitation, bonks Ryota in the head. Midori apologizes profusely for her insensitive husband's behavior of course. After that, they slowly agree to do family get-togethers and sleepovers to a permanent switch-over. Even though Ryota says that the switcheroo is not a clear-cut matter, he makes up his mind never to see Keita again.
The children are confused and don't really know what's going on. Ryusei is often left alone in their posh, hotel-like, apartment with Midori who is having hard time getting used to him. She still feels guilty about sending Keita off and starting to love Ryusei. It bothers Ryota that Ryusei's unruly behavior and table manners are not like that of Keita's. It is quite apparent Ryota has been mostly absent and quite terrible at being a father to Keita in many ways compared to affable, warm, funny Yudai.
How could one just ignore your child of 6 years and take up another just because he is your own flesh and blood? The good old, Nature vs Nurture debate aside, Kore-eda makes you think about what it means to be a good parent. Ryota's own daddy issues float up to the surface during the process and him realizing his faults plays out beautifully and naturally as the families reunite with their children who grew up with them.
It's another warm, life affirming film by Kore-eda with the help of pitch perfect acting from everyone involved. One of the best films I've seen this year so far.
Like Father, Like Son plays as part of NYFF. For showtimes and tickets, please visit FSLC website.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musing and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com