Thicker than Blood
A Cannes Grand Jury-winner and Toronto International and New York Film Festival selection, Like Father, Like Son/Soshite chichi ni nare is the most recent of director-writer-editor Hirokazu Kore-eda’s family/generational dramas. Unlike Ozu-tinged Still Walking or Nobody Knows and I Wish, however, concentration is not on adult children and their parents or on children deserted by or trying to reunite their parents. Center stage here is reserved for vigorous parents in their prime, with the youngsters secondary if cuddly adjuncts.
Alongside this examination of parental love and responsibility, is a critique of the Japanese (and many elsewheres) drive for achievement and ego at the expense of living rounded life and the rationalizing of such total consumption in the name of comfort and financial security.
Once the exciting force sets conflict rolling and lines of development and character are too easily and clearly drawn, there can be but a limited few possible resolutions. Given bright commercial visuals and the broad tenor of what goes on, the outcome is not hard to guess -- -no Pudd’nhead Wilson, this -- a matter of “how” and, after artificial delaying, “when.”
Two couples, two families, two classes and their attitudes towards life are too neatly contrasted. Minimalistic modernistic buildings and hi-rise living form the landscape of the big-city-on-the-make of Tokyo in which self-made Ryota Nonomiya (singer-songwriter-actor Masaharu Fukuyama) is successful and success-obsessed. He puts in long office hours as an architect, takes less time off than his boss and yet still brings work home, where he is pleasant but distant and finds no quality time for dutiful (or resigned) wife Midorino Nomiya (Machiko Ono) and six-year-old Keita, neither of whom shares his insistence on practice, perfection, discipline and work, a conscious departure from his own free-living and loving father.
This orderly life without ecstasies is abruptly shattered when a town hospital informs them that, pending DNA confirmation, Keita is not biologically theirs but was switched at birth with their real physical son, named Ryusei and raised these half-dozen years as one of three children of Yudai and Yukari Saiki (Lily Franky and Yoko Maki).
Worried about legal action, which Yudai is prompt to envision, embarrassed hospital officials theorize about such errors, rare today though not unheard of in the 1960s, and introduce the two affected families to each other. Snobbish citified Ryota dismisses the others as country bumpkins, from Okinawa yet, who run an appliance repair shop above which they live, take baths together, go on outings where they fish and fly kites, and have an unstructured approach to life.
Artificially trying to come to know one another, to feel each other out and to light on some viable solution, the four parents and four offspring go to children’s play areas and even exchange the two boys for a couple of days. The women find rapport in mutual sympathy as mothers-wives, but, after faulting his wife’s maternal radar, Ryota rejects the others and all compromise. First proposing the insult that both boys live with him and Midori, he decides that, despite the six years of nurture, the blood and biology of nature trump all else and that the sons must be exchanged, handed back for good.
His boss recognizes the flaw in unbending Ryota, his wife balks at being the traditional submissive helpmeet, and an awkwardly positioned naturalist mumbles wisdom about cicadas. But it is a contrite nurse, or more accurately her son, who gets through to him with a life lesson on parenthood and love.
The kids are cute, the wives and families bond, and stiff-necked father Ryota apologizes and matures to become the little-boy-in-the-grown man that both his own father and Keita’s already are. The élan vital of life and love wins out, but so blatant is the story that that outcome was not ever in doubt.
(Released by IFC Films; not rated by MPAA.)