A successful Japanese company man is horrified to discover his son was actually switched at birth and is living with a slovenly lower-middle class family.
Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a high-flying architect with a firm who pushes his son Keito to win a place at his old school, master the piano at age 6, and generally become a miniature version of him. His wife Midori (Machiko Ono) is kinder and gentler, mere weaknesses in his eyes. Ryota’s world is turned upside down when they receive a call from the hospital and are brought to a meeting with the slobbish Saiki (Riri Furanki) and his big-hearted wife (Yoko Maki) and informed that their sons were switched by accident in the maternity ward. As they struggle with whether to switch back their sons and exchange Keita for Ryusei, Ryota unravels emotionally; distancing himself from Keito, who was never really his heir. But is it really that easy to expel a human cuckoo from the family nest?
Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-Eda gets many comparisons with the redoubtable Ozu, but I couldn’t help but think an equally apt comparison would be with contemporary American auteur Tom McCarthy. If Tom McCarthy remade this film for an American audience Paul Giamitti and Amy Ryan would seamlessly fit into the roles of the Saikis. And for a large part of this film’s running time Kore-Eda shares McCarthy’s fascination with finding the dignity, drama and comedy in small moments of ordinary life. But then we come to the moment which reminded me of when a play being performed without an interval infuriates by playing thru an obvious curtain. Kore-Eda stages a haunting photo-shoot of the two families as they prepare to finally exchange sons after months of preparation and agonising. You think the screen will fade to white, and credits; not another act…
Like Father, Like Son is far too long, and it becomes more aggravating the longer it runs, as, not only it does its 2 hours running time feel like an endless 3 hour epic, but it becomes ever more emotionally manipulative. Ryota’s bad experiences with his own father, from whom he nevertheless takes bad advice against that proffered by his sage step-mother, are nicely understated, but Ryota’s counter-productive strict parenting of his new son is hammered home needlessly. Veronica Mars did this to more heartbreaking and less manipulative effect in just 40 minutes when Mac discovered that she had been switched at birth, and then left in the wrong family by her parents who kept the mix-up from her for fear of damaging her; leaving her a square peg in a round hole, and separated from her simpatico blood sister.
This would be a fascinating and quiet character-study if Kore-Eda had resisted the temptation to pull at our heartstrings, but it instead tests the patience with its obvious machinations.