Not to be confused with the Dudley Moore film of the same name, Like Father, Like Son is the sort of film that if made by Hollywood would be a cheesy movie of the week. You know the type; big dramatic gestures, poor acting and histrionics the likes of which make soap operas look cool and collected by comparison. Thankfully Like Father, Like Son is not that film. It is instead a poised and delicate insight into parenting that is made all the more powerful by its quiet, delicate nature.
When workaholic father Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) and dotting mother Midori (Machiko Ono) discover their six-year-old son was accidentally switched at birth it throws their lives into emotional turmoil. Upon meeting the other parents caught up in the unfortunate mishap, father Yudai (Lily Franky) and mother Yoko (Yukari Saiki), Ryota realises the situation is a great deal more complicated than he first thought.
Dealing with issues of nature versus nurture and class divide, Ryota is a cold and often calculating man. To him, his adopted son is an investment. Something he has spent money on educating, teaching the piano and grooming into an obedient and polite child. He’s offended at Yudai’s parenting skills, which involve lots of playing and getting involved with his kids, and even more appalled that his biological son could have been raised by a store owner and not a high society businessman like himself.
Director Hirokazu Koreeda, who recently delivered the heartwarming I Wish, presents a very toned-down, almost cold character drama. Crucially this sterility is necessary to tell Ryota’s story. He is a man almost immune to warmth. Everything is matter of fact to him, at one point turning to his son and asking that if he has no interest in improving at the piano why does he bother to continue to learn it.
In painting this calculating portrait, only spattered with heart by Yudai, Yoko and the sheepish Midori, the film is more and more a focus on priority in Japanese culture. Ryota believes he is doing right by his family, forcing his son to focus on the future but more often than not absent from his day-to-day life. Even in moments of warmth between him and his son you sense he’s acting out a role. But with all his investment potentially plummeting in stock, his biological son a far more over-excitable and normal child, Ryota is forced to address his own parenting.
The Sophie’s Choice of whether the parents will in fact swap children plays out well with just the right amount of hand wringing to convince you this is anything but a straightforward decision. The mid-section gets a little bogged down in an unnecessary subplot but by the time the end comes you feel like it is not just Ryota who has learned a lesson or two about child rearing.
Powerful and poignantly told, Like Father, Like Son packs a wonderfully astute message for modern parenting.