Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる) was a film I’d heard about earlier as it picked up a bunch of awards at various film festivals last year.
It tells of how the Nonomiyas discover that their son, Keita, was actually switched at birth with the son of the Saiki family. The Nonomiyas are, at least on the surface, the picture of the perfect modern family with a father who’s successful at his job, a caring mother, and a well-behaved and nice son who’s about to enter a good school. Nonomiya Ryota (Fukuyama Masaharu) and Midori (Ono Machiko) are the understandably troubled when the hospital breaks the news to them, but Ryota is doubly disturbed when he sees that his real son is living with a family that’s nearly a complete opposite from theirs – Saiki Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari (Maki Yoko) run a small electrical store outside of the big city and their family (which includes two other children) is noisy and exuberant where the Nonomiyas are quiet and calm. Yudai in particular annoys Ryota with his procrastination and his inclination to bleed the hospital of as much money as possible. The decision is made to return the two boys – Keita (Ninomiya Keita) and Ryusei (Hwang Shogen) – to their “true” families…
Nonomiya Ryota is the focal point of the story, and it is he who struggles the most with the whole situation. At the beginning he is rather unlikeable, spending far too little time with his family, and not comprehending how a child of his could be so relatively untalented. When he finds out about the switch, he thinks he has the answer to that question and is quite willing to return Keita and take back his real son. His attitude towards the whole situation drives a wedge between himself and his wife, and also forces him to look at his relationship with his own father and his stepmother. When Keita and Ryusei are switched back, he initially softens a good deal towards Ryusei – perhaps in an attempt to make the boy feel more comfortable with them – and it almost seems unfair that he should have been so hard on Keita but suddenly makes an about-turn with Ryusei. However, as he softens towards Ryusei, he also recalls Keita and finds that he can’t just cast aside the boy he’s called his son for six years.
Like Father, Like Son is a demonstration of parenthood in many (well, several) forms through Ryota, Midori, Yudai, Yukari, and Ryota’s parents. It looks especially at the role of the father, but the mother is not entirely forgotten as Midori’s inner turmoil shows. She is quick to sense that Ryota blames her for the mess (she chose the countryside hospital so as to be closer to her mother during the birth) and his outburst in the car of “Now it all makes sense!” after finding out the truth reveals to her that perhaps he never quite saw Keita as his own son because Keita lacked the same drive and talent. Midori also feels guilty for not realising that her child had been switched – yet another thing for which her husband blames her. Yet amid her emotional upheaval she seems to find comfort in talking to Yukari about their children and their lives. She finds it more difficult than Ryota does (at first) to let Keita go, but afterwards finds herself becoming gradually attached to Ryusei and then admits feels like she is betraying Keita (who secretly calls home still to talk to her).
The Saikis are clearly the more openly affectionate family, but they – and Yudai especially – are not portrayed as perfection personified. Yudai comes across as something of a slacker and a person who just lives for the moment, happy to put things off if he can (except when it comes to getting the hospital to foot the bill for stuff). Yukari is the stable centre of that family and is a tiny bit on the stern side (Keita finds her a little scary at first) but one can hardly blame her if she was because having to be the disciplinarian in a family with three rowdy children cannot be easy.
Some reviewers called the film sentimental, but I’ve never thought sentimentality to be a bad thing in itself. Like Father, Like Son is not (in my opinion) excessively sentimental. It’s a story about relationships and about emotions, and if one wasn’t somehow sentimental about it, this movie would probably be a lot less watchable. Ryota’s distant air is balanced out by Midori’s devoted care and the Saiki’s warmth, and at the end when Ryota has learned to be less cold, the reunion between father and son is most satisfying.
Last word: that little boy, Ninomiya Keita, is adorable.