THE OLD SWITCH-A-ROO: Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) discovers that he’s been raising a child (Keita Ninomiya) that’s not his.
City Paper grade: B
Among the world’s great filmmakers — or, more precisely, filmmakers capable of greatness — Hirokazu Koreeda is unusually difficult to pin down. He followed Nobody Knows, a heartbreaking true-life tale of abandoned children living on their own, with the samurai movie Hana; and the heartbreaking family drama Still Walking, with the blow-up doll romance Air Doll. With Like Father, Like Son, he surprises by working in largely the same vein as 2011’s I Wish, a gentle tale of boyhood dreams slightly marred by the central product placement of a Japanese rail line.
Like Father, Like Son also focuses on families separated by distance, adding an element of intrigue: As their only child, a son named Keita (Keita Ninomiya), nears his sixth birthday, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori (Machiko Ono) learn he was switched at birth with another couple’s child, a revelation that seems to snap Ryota’s misgivings about his son into sharp focus. Ryota is a driven office worker who has sacrificed his family life in the name of success and expects his son to do the same; that the boy enjoys his piano lessons but fails to push himself, even at 5, strikes his father as a mark of failure — or it did, until their lack of blood relation seemed to explain it.
Ryota looks down on the middle-class family that has been raising his biological son, scowling at the father’s lack of ambition, which naturally leaves him more time to spend with his several children. There’s a schematic feel to the movie; you could remake it for American audiences without changing a shot. But Fukuyama’s dedication to Ryota’s prickly perfection would get lost in the translation, and with it the movie’s most intriguing aspect.
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