Like Father, Like Son

Two couples find out their six-year-old sons were switched at birth and must decide whether to switch them back or leave them where they are.

Challenge Level: Japanese

This is a difficult topic to tackle well. It’s easy to set up but lends itself to getting mired down in dramatics, and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to satisfactory resolutions.

Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda gives us a glimpse at the two couples: One, an affluent city couple, polished, refined, intelligent with a corporate climbing dad around 40 and a stay-at-home mom who dotes on her only child; the other, a more rustic couple, a small-town shop owner, who’s closer to 50, and his wife who have two other kids, and squabble and struggle to make ends meet.

The country couple seem mostly focused on the lawsuit money they’re anticipating, with the father sort of passive-aggressively agreeing to whatever the mother says, so you start out being more sympathetic to the city couple.

Meanwhile, the movie assures us that, in 100% of the cases, when babies are switched they’re always switched back. This is the Japanese factor: a child is yours because he’s your blood, not for any other reason.

But as the movie progresses, we get deeper looks into the two families, and the buffoonish older father, besides having skills the younger one doesn’t, views his life through the prism of his role as a father. The young city father barely notices his family, devoting his energy to work.

That’s a gross oversimplification, however. One thing this movie does really well is not give you an easy out. At times you think you’re gonna end up hating city dad, but then his genuine love for the child he raised surfaces, and you realize a lot of his distastefulness is just him conforming to cultural expectations.

This movie has about the happiest possible ending for a movie about switched children without completely destroying suspension of disbelief, and The Boy and I were both moved by the story and presentation. Even at two hours, without any big, splashy scenes, it never felt too long.

This is one of those movies that feels organic, like the actors are their characters and the cameras were just lying around. But of course that takes a lot of effort and good technical skills all around.

There were clearly some aspects of this movie we couldn’t appreciate: allusions to culture that were lost on us, like A Touch Of Sin, for example. But we still really enjoyed it. I think it’s too late for the 2014 Foreign Language Oscar, but I wouldn’t be surprised it nominated in 2015.

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