Watching a film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is like spending time with new acquaintances. At first, there are those you dislike and others you’re attracted to. Then, you sometimes find your perceptions shifting as you experience these people first-hand over time. Like Father Like Son is a tour-de-force of character-building where no one is simply a hero or a villain.
The story involves two couples from opposite sides of the tracks. They discover that the babies they each had six years ago were swapped at the hospital. Each couple has been raising the other couple’s son as their own and they have a big decision to make. The situation is a volatile one that immediately places the audience in the shoes of the two couples. What would you do? Would you continue to raise the child you love and have spent so much time and effort nurturing, or would you prefer to have your real progeny back under your own roof?
There are no simple answers to be found here, and Kore-eda doesn’t look for them. What could have easily turned into a nature vs. nurture debate is instead focused on the parents and their differing values. One couple consists of an over-achieving architect, living in a pristine high-rise apartment with his subservient wife and their only child who’s tasked with excelling at piano at age 6. The other family has a father who’s a lazy shopkeeper and a mother who bosses him around in a house filled with siblings, noise, and chaos. The two groups couldn’t be more different, but Kore-eda refuses to tell us that one is better than the other. We get to decide for ourselves, and as the film rolls along, you may find that, like me, you often change your mind. Such is life, and such is the brilliance of Kore-eda’s visual storytelling.
There aren’t many directors with an articulate visual vocabulary like Kore-eda’s. Images of trains, bridges, and high-tension power lines pervade the film and remind us of the movement of life across boundaries. The scale of the human characters varies within the frame as they work to sort out the problems presented to them. At times, the world overwhelms them. AT others, they loom large. Kore-eda’s world strikes me as the natural world–sometimes cruel and unpredictable, but always presenting the things we need most in order to grow.
Each time I approach a film by Kore-eda, I do so with a mixture of feelings. Since discovering his work on the brilliant Still Walking, I’ve been poised on a precipice, fearing his inevitable misstep, but it never comes. His deft touch and kind eye is as present in Like Father Like Son as it is in his previous works. He is that rare thing in today’s world of movies meant to distract but not nourish. He is an artist.
Like Father Like Son is very highly recommended.