Like Father, Like Son (2013): Parent and Child Reunion

I had wanted to see this Japanese film since it came out last year. Missed it at TIFF13 last September, its North American premiere after winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize in May. Glad it has finally arrived on Netflix, reaching a much wider audience than just festival goers, deservedly.

Like Father Like Son

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda wrote the screenplay based on a disturbing premise: what if after six years of raising your son, the hospital where he was born contacted you and told you that your child was switched at birth, and of course, they sent their apology.

The hospital officials do not take this lightly. DNA tests are done to confirm. They have a lawyer with them, arrange to have you meet the other parents, mediate and ease the proposed switch back, which they recommend with a six-month preparation period, preferably before the boys start grade one in school. They even find out who the nurse is that made the error; due to her own frustrations at the time she knowingly made the switch. Of course, she is deeply sorry for what she had done and duly prosecuted. Monetary compensations are arranged.

But all the above have absolutely nothing to do with easing the shock and alleviating the trauma afflicted upon the families. Formality and legality do not soothe the pain; apologies and money cannot compensate for the abrupt termination of relationships.

Director Kore-eda has treated the subject matter with much tenderness and charm. The cinematography is stylish, the children and adults are all captured in a realistic manner with splashes of endearing humour.

The two families come from very different social strata, and the two boys have been raised in opposite parenting styles. Interestingly, only one of the families seems to take this news much harder. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful professional who spends most of his time in the glass towers of Tokyo busy at work. His son Keita (Keita Nonomiya), an only child, is raised in a protective environment. Mother Midori (Machiko Ono) is loving but also ambivalent about a husband who puts his career over his family.

The other family is a shop owner in a rural part of the country, their son Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang) is the eldest of three children. Father Yudai Saiki (Rirî Furankî) is every child’s dream. He spends his days playing with his children, fixes their toys, and exerts no rules, albeit Mom Yukari (Yoko Maki) might wish he could have spent more time working.

What makes a father? What makes a son? Fatherhood and bloodline tend to supersede all other factors in a patriarchal society like Japan. But the film reflects the point of view that not all families necessarily embrace such a value. Further, apparently there are different parenting styles even in a homogeneous Japanese society.

If there is ever a Japanese version of the movie Boyhood as we have seen here from Richard Linklater, Hirokazu Kore-eda would be the ideal person to direct it. Like Father Like Son follows his previous work I Wish (2011) in its sensitive and incisive depiction of a boy’s heart and yearning. He can tear apart the facade of societal formality–but in a most tender way–and lay bare the hopes and needs, the essence of parents child relationships.

I must give credits to Johann Sebastian Bach, and the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. The beginning of Bach’s Goldberg Variations has been used in numerous films, but every time the soulful slow moving piano melody comes out, I am moved, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, and in so many different genres of films. Just from memory, I can think of The English Patient (1996), Hannibal (2001), Shame (2011). It is so effective in augmenting cinematic moments without becoming clichéd.

Here, the Aria is well placed as director Kore-eda uses it as a motif to spur us into deeper thoughts. What makes a father, a son? What is more important, blood or relationships? What is the role of a wife and mother in a patriarchal society? What is the purpose of giving birth and bringing up a child? What is fulfilling and meaningful to us as human beings? Indeed, a motif that can strike a universal chord of resonance that transcends cultures.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

12 thoughts on “Like Father, Like Son (2013): Parent and Child Reunion”

  1. Thanks for telling me about this one — I have always been impressed by the depth of the Japanese movies I’ve seen and this one sounds no exception. I don’t have netflix yet but hoping to by the new year and this will definitely be on the list. Maybe our library can get it. Rick would like it, too.


    1. Jeanie,

      I think you’ll like this director’s works. I Wish (2011) is very good too… also about a young boy. I’m not sure if the DVD of LFLS is out yet. I’ve been looking for it all these months.


  2. What makes a father, what makes a son, indeed. These are questions I have been asking all my life (only insert the word daughter instead of son) due to adoption. There are certainly ties beyond blood which connect us as family, although even now I’m unclear as to how to define them. Gratitude? Love? Sheer proximity of living as a family? What a fascinating film, one I’ll be sure to look for.


    1. Bellezza,

      Yes, serious questions but dealt with charmingly, and with heartening humour. I can’t help but think of your association with Japanese culture with your hosting the Japanese Lit Challenge all these years, I’m sure you’ll be drawn to this thoughtful cinematic depiction of the contemporary Japanese family. Do check it out. 😉


  3. What intriguing premises – and I use the plural, because it seems like this is one of the most multi-layered films I’ve seen reviewed in quite some time. I can’t even imagine being in such a situation, although I remember hearing of such things a time or a few over the years. I’m going to look for this one, just to see how the questions are addressed, and what resolution might come.


    1. Linda,

      Well, there are the rare cases, and the fictional rendition (Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children comes to mind) but this film is original in its imaginary but realistic scenarios. It’s last year’s film, no longer screened in the theatres. You’ll have to find the DVD.


  4. How intriguing! My son likes all things Japanese – I will have to point him in this direction. It sounds like an amazing premise for a very profound film.


    1. Letizia,

      Glad to have someone who have seen it and liked it stop by and share her views. Hope more people can have the chance to enjoy it. Thanks for your comment. 😉


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