Father and another man’s son: Masaharu Fukuyama and Keita Ninomiya in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son.
  • Father and another man’s son: Masaharu Fukuyama and Keita Ninomiya in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son.
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Forty-five years after the Japanese practice of nurses identifying newborns by names written in Magic Marker on the soles of their feet was thought to have ceased, it took one thoughtless orderly to forever alter the lives of two families.

What happens when children are switched at birth is a parent’s worst nightmare and the basis of untold movie-of-the-week melodramas. Even the title, Like Father, Like Son, bears the patina of generations of weepies. Happily, there is no product of the Hallmark Channel here, as this nurturing, resoundingly contemplative family drama comes dealt with an open hand by master filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda (After Life, Still Walking).

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Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi Ni Naru) ****

Driven businessman Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) doesn’t have time for impromptu day trips to the zoo or pouring a first sip of beer foam at a baseball game for his six-year-old son, Keita (Keita Ninomiya), to savor. Success is the best teacher, and Ryota’s idea of mentoring is seven days a week spent at the office. When the boss puts in a rare Sunday appearance, he thanks Ryota and comments on how his employees’ dedication frees up time for him to spend with the family.

To Ryota, family is defined by blood, not the child’s character or the years his wife and Keita’s mother (Machiko Ono) put in bonding with the boy. What if the alternate set of parents, a middle-class couple who compensate for a lack of wealth by making life sweet for their kids, don’t come equipped with the proper lineage? The short amount of time we spend watching Ryota interact with his equally glacial father is justification enough for his quick decision to abandon years of parenting and switch the prince with the pauper, instead of adding a rotting branch to the Nonomiya family tree.

Koreeda begins by observing his characters from a safe distance, frequently resorting to bird’s-eye shots to mirror the stand-offishness of his proud lead. It takes five reels and a family-splintering act of titanic proportions for Ryota to finally grasp the importance of his boss’ seemingly offhanded remark. There’s no such thing as a “wrong” kid, as Koreeda proves by taking his audience on this exquisite, positively poignant journey to find the true meaning of family.

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