×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Like Father, Like Son’

Hirokazu Kore-eda's reverberant drama is a characteristically low-key treatment of familial bonds, expectations and responsibilities

With:
Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Lily Franky, Yoko Maki, Keita Ninomiya, Hwang Sho-gen, Jun Kunimura, Kirin Kiki, Isao Natsuyagi, Jun Fubuki.

Reshaping a classic babies-switched-at-birth plot into a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of parenthood, Japanese helmer Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Like Father, Like Son” is a characteristically low-key but supple treatment of familial bonds, expectations and responsibilities that reverberates with heartrending impact. The age-old nature-vs.-nurture debate emerges naturally from a comparison between two very different families, but it’s the story’s intent focus on one father’s intimacy issues and redemptive transformation that makes the film so sublimely moving. Warm critical response will ensure long fest legs but, like Kore-eda’s other works, the pic will struggle to find a home beyond niche arthouse release.

Kore-eda has chosen a subject with no lack of precedents, notably in Etienne Chatillez’s “Life Is a Long, Quiet River” (1988). Yet despite its well-worn elements, “Like Father, Like Son” is still thematically of a piece with the helmer’s own films dealing with the abandonment or separation of children, “Nobody Knows” (2004) and “I Wish” (2011). As usual, the director retains his controlled style even as he moves toward a more traditional narrative mode.

The film begins with a stiff, decorous school entrance interview, during which well-groomed 6-year-old Keita (Keita Ninomiya) relates how his father, Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), taught him to fly a kite on a family camping trip. One finds out later that it was a lie drilled into the boy in preparation for the interview, and that Ryota is a driven architect who never spends time with his family. Not that he doesn’t love his docile, mousy wife, Midori (Machiko Ono), or Keita, for whom he has planned a successful future and a rigid, demanding activity sheet to help get him there.

Popular on Variety

But the Nonomiyas’ lives are turned upside down when they learn that the hospital where Midori gave birth mistakenly switched infants, so Keita actually belongs to suburban appliance storeowners Yudai and Yukari Saiki (Lily Franky and Yoko Maki) Saiki, who have unwittingly raised the Nonomiyas’ son, Ryusei (Hwang Sho-gen), as their own. The two families arrange gatherings for their children to mingle, and begin a trial system of exchanging the boys on weekends.

This gives rise to some gently ironic contrasts between the bourgeois Nonomiyas’ elegant but finicky lifestyle and the Saikis’ unkempt, anything-goes existence. But rather than aiming for Chatillez’s savage social satire, the class differences here are merely a natural extension of the two couples’ respectively uptight and easygoing personalities. Similarly, Kore-eda doesn’t accentuate the boys’ differences so much as show how quickly children adapt to their surroundings, as seen in some marvelously sweet scenes in which the timid, well-behaved Keita blends in with his carefree Saiki siblings and bonds with his affectionate, playful biological father, Yudai, to Ryota’s mild chagrin.

Ryota initially tries to buy off the penny-pinching Saikis so he can keep both Keita and Ryusei, but when this plan backfires, he starts heeding the counsel of his father (Isao Natsuyagi), which is that the bloodline counts more. Although the Saikis may occupy a slightly idealized portrait of a working-class household, the mannered, disciplined existence Nonomiya tries to impose on his family is clearly a veneer for his underlying vulnerability.

In typical Kore-eda fashion, it takes an accretion of small incidents, rather than any melodramatic confrontation, for Ryota to realize where his genuine affections lie. A nuanced scene in which he visits his father and stepmother, and an encounter with the nurse responsible for the swap, reveal his own childhood hangups and a poignant explanation for his adult behavior.

Singer-songwriter-thesp Fukuyama carefully tweaks his cocky intellectual persona as seen in the popular TV drama “Galileo” and its film version, “Suspect X.” Though Ryota is initially drawn as arrogant and entitled, his workaholic habits are considered the norm in Japan, as many fathers less successful than Ryota must conform to corporate culture against their wishes. A conversation between Ryota and Yudai poses the film’s central question: Is parenthood defined by blood, or by the time that parent and child spend together? The ending offers an answer at once ambiguous and strangely reassuring.

While the mannerisms of artist-writer-thesp Franky work in fitting counterpart to Fukushima’s studied perf, the two female leads display less range, and will be considered overly passive characters by Western auds. Mikiya Takimoto’s crisp lensing and beguilingly simple camera setups are complemented by the use of Bach’s Goldberg Variations to evoke a range of moods, from contemplative to light-hearted to somber. Other tech credits are polished; the Japanese title means “Then, One Becomes a Father.”

Cannes Film Review: 'Like Father, Like Son'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 17, 2013. Running time: 121 MIN. Original title: "Soshite chichi ni naru"

Production: (Japan) A Gaga (in Japan)/Le Pact (in France) release of a Fuji Television Network, Amuse, Gaga presentation of a Film Inc. production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris. Asian sales: Gaga, Tokyo.) Produced by Chihiro Kameyama, Tatsuro Hatanaka, Tom Yoda. Executive producers, Yasushi Ogawa, Chiaki Harada, Satomi Odake.

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Mikiya Takimoto; music, Junichi Matsumoto, Takashi Mori, Takeshi Matsubara; music supervisor, Shin Yasui; production designer, Keiko Mitsumatsu; set decorator, Akiko Matsuba; costume designer, Kazuko Kurosawa, Misako Kajimoto; sound (Dolby Digital), Yutaka Tsurumaki; supervising sound editor, Akihiko Okase; line producer, Yasuyuki Niino; associate producers, Megumi Osawa; assistant director, Atsushi Kaneshige; casting, Toshie Tabata.

With: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Lily Franky, Yoko Maki, Keita Ninomiya, Hwang Sho-gen, Jun Kunimura, Kirin Kiki, Isao Natsuyagi, Jun Fubuki.

More Film

  • "Jojo Rabbit" and "Schitts Creek" Win

    'Jojo Rabbit,' 'Masked Singer' and 'Maleficent' Win Top Honors at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The Costume Designers Guild handed out its trophies for the 22nd annual CDG Awards with “Jojo Rabbit” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” receiving top honors among the costumers. In the TV category, the hit “The Masked Singer” and designer Marina Toybina beat out reigning designer Zaldy (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) for excellence in variety, reality-competition, live [...]

  • Weathering With You

    Japan Box Office Leaps to $2.4 Billion Record in 2019

    The Japanese box office leaped by 17% in 2019 to set a record $2.4 billion score, according to figures announced Tuesday by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, locally known as Eirin. The previous high was the $2.2 billion recorded in 2016. The Makoto Shinkai animation “Weathering with You” was the highest earning film [...]

  • Lionsgate Developing 'Memetic' Apocalyptic Horror Movie

    Film News Roundup: Lionsgate Developing 'Memetic' Apocalyptic Horror Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Lionsgate is developing graphic novel “Memetic” as a feature, the latest Laura Ziskin Prize is announced and Firelight Media creates a fund for nonfiction filmmakers of color at the mid-career mark. PROJECT LAUNCHES Lionsgate is in final negotiations for motion picture rights to the apocalyptic horror graphic novel “Memetic” for [...]

  • Sylvie's Love Review

    'Sylvie's Love': Film Review

    Sultry music swells as the camera swoons over a young couple in a tender nighttime embrace. The 1950s residential New York City street is carefully rain-slicked and lined with shiny classic cars: an obvious stage set. Gene Kelly might just have swung on that lamppost; Doris Day might lean out of an upstairs window to sigh [...]

  • Martin Scorsese Irishman BTS

    Martin Scorsese's Body of Work Extends Far Beyond Male-Centric Mafia Movies

    Actors sometimes complain about being typecast, but it’s a fact of life for anyone in entertainment. John Ford is usually labeled a director of Westerns, despite “The Grapes of Wrath” and  “Mister Roberts.” David Lean is known for his epics, but he also directed “Brief Encounter” and “Summertime.” Vincente Minnelli? The director of musicals, overlooking [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Will Oscar Campaigning Turn to Mudslinging?

    On March 5, 1963, Army Archerd wrote in Variety: “There’s been a not-so-subtle campaign pyramiding since Oscar nominations that Omar Sharif is an ex-Egyptian soldier who fought in the Israeli War. Forget it: Omar sez: ‘I never fought in any army.’” Archerd also denied the rumor that Sharif was Muslim. Two big takeaways: 1. Mudslinging [...]

  • Blake Lively

    Why Blake Lively Isn't Trying to Be the 'Female James Bond' in 'The Rhythm Section'

    “The Rhythm Section,” Reed Morano’s new espionage thriller about a female assassin who sets out to avenge her family’s untimely death, is not a female-led approximation of a “James Bond” film. Though Barbara Broccoli, the magnate producer whose family has been solely responsible for the franchise, is producing the movie, “The Rhythm Section” is decidedly not [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content