「 Like Father, Like Son 」Bonds by Blood and Time

What does it mean to be a ‘family’? Do people have to be blood-related to be alike?



One day, Ryota receives a phone call from the hospital. The hospital informs Ryota that his 6-year-old son is not his biological son. After his birth, two babies were switched. Ryota and his wife become torn by the news. The couple must decide whether to take back their biological son or keep the son they have raised for the last 6 years.

Stories about parent-child relationships never fail to get me (most specially because I myself don’t have that tight bond with my parents). This movie, naturally, is not an exception.

Released in 2013, Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru, lit. “Then to Become a Father”) is the Jury Prize winner of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It is written and produced by Koreeda Hirokazu, the director of award-winning films Nobody Knows, Umimachi Diary, and Still Walking. His films are shown on various film festivals internationally.

This particular movie offers a poignant story about child-switching at birth. The struggles of both the parents and children are explored. The parents’ struggles, as they try to ‘correct’ everything while they slowly go adapt a lifestyle different from the 6 previous years they lived. And of course, the children’s, as they obey without fully understanding the set-up laid before them.

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The main focus is Nonomiya Ryota (Fukuyama Masaharu). The Japanese title speaks so much of him since out of the parents, he had the most issues with the topic of ‘family’, of being a father in particular. He is that type of father who is strict and expects a lot from his child. He spends little time with his family because of his work.

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His way of parenting as well as personality contrasts that of Saiki Yudai (Lily Franky). Yudai is the type of father who frequently plays with his children and spends a lot of time with his family, as they own a shop only by their house. He is also carefree and lets his wife take the lead, something that irks Ryota who is the traditional type.

The two mothers, Midori (Ono Machiko) and Yukari (Maki Yoko), may be different but both are kind and loving toward their child/ren. They both share a deep love and care for the child they thought was their child. Of course, they grew to care for their birth child, too.

The movie shows the slow changes that happen as they gradually adapt to the aftermath of the revelation, but it is mainly focused on Ryota. Thus, the Saiki family has less screen time. Given that Ryota is the one who needs to learn something about being a father, I think that’s inevitable. The story can make people reflect on what it means to be ‘family’. Can you call yourself a family if you have more common blood to the person than actual understanding of the person? Is it impossible to be like the parents who never share your blood? What does it mean to be a good father? We may already have answers to those questions, but it’s interesting to see how a character’s journey to realize the answers will go.

Koreeda excels in capturing the beauty of reality with dramatic flair. With the well-chosen camera shots as well as color grading, a scene can easily tug at the heartstrings. The movie is actually quiet. There are only a few beautiful piano pieces played on certain scenes, but the rest only have the natural sounds. For me, it works well. The silences made me think of the weight of the issue they are facing while the piano pieces sounds like they are soothing my heavy heart as I watch the scenes.

We can pick up some interesting life reminders out of their story like how there’s no one way of living and raising kids. Two kids can grow up well, polite, and happy even with different upbringing. We should not judge based on looks alone. Bonds matter.

This movie is wonderful and I can only sing praises for it. I understand if other people may find it slow or boring, though. But I still think everyone should give this a chance as it’s one we could all relate at some point, having parents, even if some are not by blood.

Anyway, I have more that I want to say about Keita because I just felt a lot for him. He is one dear, lovely child and I cried because of how precious he is. The following are more of my feels, so there are spoilers.

I loved the scenes when:

  • Midori and Keita were on the train
  • Yukari exchanged winks with Keita
  • Yudai playing with the kids, especially the one with Keita on the tub
  • Ryota saw the pictures Keita had taken way before the exchange

I especially have a soft spot for Keita. I wanted to see more of him. He is the obedient kid who never talked back to his parents. He never complained. I know he must have been cared for in his real house, but he never experienced receiving so much love, affection, and appreciation from both his parents when he was younger, compared to Ryusei. When he got there, there are already two younger kids. The attention isn’t the same anymore.

That’s why it pained me to see Ryota wanting to drive him away. When Ryota and Midori had a verbal exchange, Midori reminded him of the time when they discovered that Keita wasn’t their child. She said that he wasn’t able to accept that Keita didn’t have his ability. I think this refers more to Keita’s ability in playing the piano. But then, the pictures Keita took were shown. I saw it as a connection between the two of them. Both of them must have enjoyed taking photos. Yet Keita said he did not want the camera. Seeing how the photos were all of Ryota’s, they reflect how Keita loved Ryota. It hurt how he said that the other parents love Keita more than he does. The flower Keita made was even broken. And when Ryusei ran way to go to his former family, Ryota did not even call to see Keita. It hurt to see Keita going for the door, but went back to sit on the futon.

Oh, just how glad I am with how they ended the issue between Ryota and Keita. I loved how their last scene together was shot, with them threading difficult paths — with Keita walking ahead at first but initially walking aligned him — but meeting by the end of it. I loved how Ryota said, “Mission is over”.

Gah, I shed too much tears because of them.


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