Like Father, Like Son Movie Review
With his previous film I Wish, we knew that Japanese filmmaker Kore-eda was an expert at drawing engaging performances out of adorable young children. And he does that again here, but the film's main focus is on a man who discovers the little boy inside himself, as well as the father he should be. It's a strikingly sentimental story that never gets remotely sappy because it draws out delicate details in each scene.
The man in question is Ryota (Fukuyama), a well-off architect raising his cheeky 5-year-old son Keita (Ninomiya) with his quietly observant wife Midori (Ono). When they're notified that Keita was swapped with another baby at birth, their reactions are extremely telling. Ryota says, "Now it all makes sense", while Midori wonders why she didn't notice it earlier. Their biological son Ryusei (Sho-gen) has been raised by the poor shopkeeper Yudai (Lily) and his wife Yukari (Maki), who have two other children. The question is whether they can just swap the boys back to their biological parents, or are the bonds already too strong?
By keeping the focus on Ryota, Kore-eda pulls us into the events from an intriguing angle. Sharply well-played by Fukuyama, Ryota is cold and sometimes harshly demanding, which we learn is a legacy from his own father. He's also snobbishly dismissive of the poorer family, even offering to raise both boys himself. By contrast, Yudai always puts his family ahead of his work, something alien to Ryota. So the key is whether Ryota will be able to view this situation through the boys' eyes.
Kore-eda makes sure we can see every perspective in this story, creating vivid characters who interpret things in their own way. As the little boys, Ninomiya and Sho-gen are often the most observant people on the screen. But Kore-eda resists over-egging the cute factor, and he keeps the emotions understated, never manipulating us to a specific reaction. Instead, this is an honest, complex exploration of what it means to be a parent and a child. And it cleverly lets us find the important bits ourselves.