Like Father, Like Son (2013)

In honour of Father’s Day tomorrow, I’m re-posting my review of the acclaimed Japanese film Like Father, Like Son. (Update: Director Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent work Our Little Sister is a Palme d’Or nominee at Cannes 2015.)


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 Koreeda 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 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 had been used in numerous films, but every time the soulful slow moving piano melody comes on, 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; what makes 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.

10 thoughts on “Like Father, Like Son (2013)”

  1. I think I remember when you posted this before because I shared the post with Rick. We don’t have netflix (someday, when I get a blue ray…or a smart tv). We tried to find it at our video store which is generally very good with art and foreign films but not there. I’ll remember it, because one day I will see this.


    1. Hope one day you’ll have the chance to see this. The most recent film from this director is The Little Sister, a Palme d’Or nominee at Cannes this year. I look forward to seeing that one but don’t think it will come around to our city any time soon.


  2. It’s so nice to read your review again, Arti. Questions focused on parenting ( or the lack thereof ) are being asked more often in the U.S., and t I think you’re pointing in the right direction when you highlight the fact that the style of parenting may matter less than the existence of parents. One of the greatest gifts in my life was a stable, loving family. Were my parents perfect? Of course not. But then — they didn’t have the perfect child, either!

    If I could change just one thing overnight in the country of ours, I’d stop the tacit governmental approval of bearing children outside of marriage, and I’d find some new ways to support the families that stay together. I think that might take a magic wand, though.


    1. It’s very seldom seeing a film depicting so human an issue without being sentimental and mushy. I always think that’s the sign of good filmmaking. Not that I avoid emotions, but that it’s excellent handling, and writing, for that matter, to sidestep the obvious and lay out a different perspective that is fresh and not cliched. And you’re right, it’s not parenting style, and here, neither is bloodline, which is so important in Asian cultures. So you can imagine what a horrible scenario this is for the two families in this story.


  3. I couldn’t give up a child I have loved and raised for six years. And I couldn’t let someone else raise my flesh and blood child. That’s the predicament for me, not who made the better dad. It seems that in a patriarchal society men are the breadwinners and women are home raising the child. But in the US and Australia, where I live, men and women are at work and it’s the day care centres that are raising the children. How would those parents react to finding out they haven’t got the right child? That would be a worthy topic to discuss.


    1. Mary,

      Welcome to the pond and thanks for throwing in your two pebbles and leaving some ripples. Yes, various issues involved here. And I think the film handles it well by brining out the human complications with tenderness and pathos. What more, it’s a delightful watch. If you have a chance, do check it out.

      Liked by 1 person

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