Like Father, Like Son is a film that does what many blockbuster films are afraid of: it goes slowly and quietly. Instead of building up high levels of suspense and clichéd rhetorical questions, it leaves time for the characters to grow and the viewers to ponder, which very much works in its favour – if you like that sort of thing.
The character at the centre of it all is Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukushima), who is struggling through the news that his 6 year old son Keita is not biologically his, as he was switched at birth. But where the film really excels is going beyond this perhaps soap opera concept to a debate on nature versus nurture and what it means to be a father.
This [film] does not fall into a trap of becoming a suspenseful, on edge tale of grief and trauma.
The tone is key here. Conflicted parents choose whether to raise the child they thought was theirs, or ‘exchange’ it for their biological one. However, this does not fall into a trap of becoming a suspenseful, on edge tale of grief and trauma. Instead, Like Father, Like Son aims to present the opposing families to the viewer, and have them consider what would be best, without necessarily coming up with a definitive answer.
The moments of silence assist the viewer’s reflection, while also heightening moments of noise, such as Ryusei, Ryota’s biological son, making a racket on the piano to which contrasts with Keita’s delicate playing. Nevertheless, whilst the use of contrast between the two families was well edited and often fascinating, the technique was repeated throughout and lost its subtlety after a while. Yet as soon as it got stale, a slightly left-field contrast would remind you why director Hirokazu Koreeda chose to use this technique in the first place.
It’s the kind of piece which proves place of film as an art form.
Its biggest flaw is the focus on Ryota at the expense of other characters. The cast as a whole are tremendous, and for me Like Father, Like Son was at its best when dealing with the two families, rather than just the father of its title. Machika Ono, who plays his wife Midori, is engaging as the mother distraught with the guilt that she could not recognise her own son, yet unwilling to part from the son she has called hers for six years.
Lily Franky, who plays Keita’s biological father, is intriguing as the anti-Ryota, not a hard worker but a caring father, and had potential to be a much more fleshed out character than just the bearer of wisdom for Ryota. Not forgetting the truly great child actors, who delivered their lines brilliantly, providing comedy and sweetness when all the heartbreaking scenes got a little too intense. To truly reach its potential, I feel that it needed to be more of an ensemble piece.
Overall, Like Father, Like Son is perfect for any viewer who wants to swap the next action-packed blockbusters for a thoughtful film with character development and stellar acting at its core. It’s the kind of piece which proves place of film as an art form.