Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori Nonomiya (Machiko Ono) are a hard working professional couple who live with their only child, Keita, in a modern Tokyo high-rise. After the hospital delivers the shocking truth about their son being switched at birth, the Nonomiyas suddenly find their lives drastically altered. Their birth-son, Ryusei, is being raised by the easygoing Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari Saiki (Yoko Maki). In stark contrast to the Nonomiyas, the Saikis and their three children live in a modest apartment above the family’s appliance shop. Both couples are hesitant to force an abrupt emotional change on their families, but soon begin socializing, including swapping boys on weekends.
The winner of the Jury prize at Cannes last year, Like Father, Like Son is a thoughtful, methodical and serious examination of a concept usually played humorously. Fukuyama delivers a mesmerizing performance as the over-achieving Ryota, a father who while working to better his family’s situation has managed to distance himself from everyone around him. His work is nuanced and largely internalized, but displaying lots of confusion, doubt, and pain in his facial expressions.
The jumping off point for Fukuyama’s Ryota comes from the character’s initial remarking on the situation that “it all makes sense”, a simple phrase that betrays his feelings and ultimately becomes the main point of contention between him and his wife Midori. After watching this for a second time after its debut at TIFF this past September, the nuanced and brilliant performance from Ono stands out even more. The pain of being stuck between what is expected of her in and her undying love for Kieta wears her down, leading to a wrenching sequence where she feels she has betrayed Keita by allowing herself to feel for Ryuesi. It’s the less showy performance of the film, but in Ono’s hands it becomes something very special.
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda continues to show that he has an amazing ability to coax and mold natural and shockingly confident performances from the children in his films. Many times just leaving the camera rolling to allow the children to simply be themselves, the youngsters are some of the most believable kids on screen in a long time, especially when it comes to the child playing Keita (also named Kieta), who proves to play wiser beyond his limited years.
The film does carry some pacing issues and it takes a very long time to start getting to where it needs to It’s methodical, and Kore-eda never seems to be in a rush to get anywhere. It does build to a brilliant final sequence between father and son that carries more emotional gravitas in 20 minutes than the rest of the film can hold in its first 100 minutes and that most films can muster throughout their entire running time. It’s a satisfying conclusion so great that it can leave even the most impatient of viewers feeling like the film was a great investment of their time.