Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mistaken families and mistaken love

Like Father, Like Son, opening Friday at Landmark’s Main Art in Royal Oak - the latest from Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda - is an emotional story about family. But for me it wasn’t so much about the apparent main theme but about one character’s coming to terms with who he is. The story is ostensibly about two families who discover that their now six year old boys were switched at birth in a provincial hospital by what turned out to be a sociopathic nurse. Koreeda focuses on one of the families – a hard-driving architect Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), his wife Midori (Machiko Ono), and their “mistaken” son Keita (Keita Ninomiya). They are juxtaposed against the other family who is working class and live cheek by jowl beside husband/father Yukari’s (Yoko Maki) machine shop. Each family was given the other family’s child by mistake - er, design. A reconciliation takes place where the families meet and get to know one another. But soon the differences become apparent. Ryota is glum and serious and so devoted to his job he hardly had time at home with Keita. Yukari is happy go lucky and loves to goof off with he and wife Yudai’s (Lily Franky) many kids including the misplaced Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang). The child exchange would be a diffcult transition for any family. Having built loving bonds between what you thought were your own children and then having to exchange them for your children by blood could bring a huge range of emotions. And the film depicts that. Midori, Ryota’s wife, feels guilty for not having recognized Keita's facial dissimilarities sooner. And of course the children - who are slowly integrated into their real families through weekend sleepovers - cry to go back home to see their “real” daddies. One day Ryusei asks Ryota to repair a toy and Ryota at first can’t. The boy says, “When I go home again I’ll have daddy fix it.” Eventually the children make the transition. But even here Midori feels guilt for “betraying” Keita. The movie is called Like Father, Like Son for a reason. The real story is not the misplaced children but Ryota’s coming to terms with what it means to be a father. Cold, austere, and failing to connect with Keita, once reunited with his son Ryusei, he forces himself to change. There are good performances all around especially by the children. The family scenes are naturalistic. But what I liked most was this wasn’t a one-dimensional story. There were two or even three levels at work: the wrongful exchange, Ryota’s fatherhood, and the clash between dour and happy family environments. In the end the movie went from heartbreaking to heartwarming and in a genuine way. 

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