Sunday, August 17, 2014

Like Father, Like Son

If you have a child, you know that you've loved him/her since the moment they were placed in your arms. Loved them so deeply and irrevocably, that you can't imagine life without them or life before them. You changed poopy diapers, caressed fevered brows, worried and stressed over the first day of school. Now imagine you're told that this child fully entrenched in your heart is not your child; there was a mix-up at the hospital and you've been caring for and loving a stranger's child. What would you do? Such is the agonizing dilemma facing two very different families in Like Father, Like Son, a Japanese film with English subtitles, winner of the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Ryota is a cold and distant businessman, an architect whose ambitions keep him long days and nights in the office and away from his family, while Midori is the stereotypical dutiful wife who cares and dotes on their only son, 6-year old Keita. After the couple is informed of the accidental baby switch six years earlier, the hospital representatives arrange a meeting with their biological child, Ryusei, and the parents that raised him. Unlike Ryota, Yudai (Ryusei's dad) is an appliance store shopkeeper, a big kid constantly tinkering with broken goods and his kid's toys, while mom Yukari is a waitress. Though lacking the fancy home, private schools and piano lessons to which Keita has been privileged, Ryusei has grown up loved, living in a warm and rambunctious home with two younger siblings.

As the families spend more time together, the fact hangs over their head that a swap must be made. Haunted and shaped by his own icy father-son relationship, Ryota struggles to make a decision; torn between the child he's loved for six years or the child, that like his father bitingly reminds him, carries his blood and will one day grow up to look like him. A compelling nature vs. nurture debate which keeps you on the edge of your seat as each family faces the heart-wrenching decision of chosing love or logic.

This was a beautiful, evocative and poignant film. Like Father, Like Son both tugs at your heartstrings and gives you chills as you reluctantly try to put yourself in the protagonist's shoes. A wonderful exploration of what it really means to be a father (or mother), which through the highlighted contrast between each family's means and wealth, also clearly and resoundingly reminds us of the fact that what matters most to a child's happiness is love; to be loved completely and unconditionally, not the trappings of wealth or lack thereof.

The performance by the actress portraying Midori was a standout for me; she's the only one whose heartbreak is palpably conveyed in the way she gazes at this child not of her womb that she's come to love. All three of the other adult protagonists portrayals, especially Ryota as the central character, were almost stoic in the face of this tragic course of events, at times coming across as cold and unfeeling, but I didn't let it color my view of the movie, because in truth their bearing seemed in keeping with my impression of a more reserved Asian society where emotions are kept tightly in check.

Like Father, Like Son is an affecting film straight out of any parent's nightmares. A film that will leave you thinking long after the credits roll.