“Can you really love a child without your blood?”
Childhood seems to be a recurring theme of exploration for Japanese director and screenwriter Hirokazu Kore-eda [Nobody Knows, Still Walking]. In his 2013 multi-awarded Like Father, Like Son, the eternal and insoluble questions of parenting, family bonding, legacy and adoption are brought to the forefront in a subtle, heartwarming way.
Set in the background of the rigid idea of a Japanese family, successful architect Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) and wife Midori (Machiko Ono) find out that their 6-year-old son Keita (Keita Ninomiya) is not their biological offspring. Due to a hospital mistake, their real son is growing up as Ryusei (Shogen Hwang) in the lower-class Saiki family. Given the chance to meet up and negotiate the gradual swapping of the two boys, the rigid and distant Ryota will eventually be faced with both ethical and psychological dilemmas that redefine paternal love in new, delicate ways.
The social and emotional differences between pragmatic Ryota and unpretentious Yudai (Lily Franky) are portrayed in underlying, intricately funny moments. The child actors deliver simply enrapturing performances as they jump into each other’s shoes and face new challenges with their newly-found parents.
With Bach’s Goldberg variations in the background, the naturalistic acting and the sharp contrast between material wealth and affection are only enhanced by the use of visual components instead of dialogue. Kore-eda guides us along a journey, where the obvious differences between the two families are meant to fade away into family love.
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