The film that questions nature vs nurture

Hirokazu Koreeda’s award-winning film Like Father, Like Son explores paternal love and family.

Like Father, Like Son

Hirokazu Koreeda (After Life, Nobody Knows) is one of the most interesting contemporary Japanese directors. His latest film Like Father, Like Son, which explores the difficult terrain of paternal love, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes film festival where it won the Jury Prize and it also went on to be an official selection at TIFF and to win the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival as well as the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

like posterThe story is pretty heartbreaking and not in a swelling of stringed instruments/Hollywood film kind of way. Two families — one wealthy (the Nonomiyas), one lower class (the Saikis) — discover that their sons have been switched at birth. For six years, both families have been raising their sons, who hold no blood relation — quashing comments, fears and discussions about their lack of resemblance to their parents — treating them like their own.

When the hospital gathers the parents together to break the news, they offer that most families in this situation simply exchange the children as quickly as possible and move on with their lives. This calls into question ideas of nature vs. nurture, not to mention concerns of what constitutes family. Can you turn your back on a kid that you know for sure is your flesh and blood? And how does knowing your kid who you thought was yours, and really isn’t, affect your relationship with them?

like1In an observational and reflective manner, Koreeda seeks to answer these questions, focusing on the role of the father, exploring tradition and history vs. what children actually demand or need from that relationship, while also addressing what wealth provides vs. poverty. The father in the Nonomiyas (Masaharu Fukuyama) struggles with his satisfaction that his son wasn’t as gifted as he was as a child, because he never really was his son. And the film focuses on his journey into understanding what his role truly is, beyond bringing home a paycheque.

Like Father, Like Son is one of the most engaging films that I’ve seen this year. The child actors are so natural, which has become a bit of Koreeda trademark — as well as his ability to get a camera to mimic their perspective. There’s no throwaway scenes, you find yourself battling with the parents, trying to make the decision for them, exploring your own potentially unearthed opinions about belonging and family dynamics.

It’s a refreshing and memorable film, one which has caused me to think about these fictional boys long after the credits rolled. ■

Like Father, Like Son opens tomorrow, Friday, April 11