Like Father, Like Son is not a 1987 film starring Dudley Moore and a pre-evangelical Kirk Cameron, nor is it an album by Lil Wayne and Birdman. This Like Father, Like Son is nothing so commercial. Instead, it’s a drama from Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who specializes in films about children living in dysfunctional families. In this case, the protagonist is an architect, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), who spends too much time at work and not enough time with his six-year-old son Kieto. It’s a pretty typical dynamic: the father shows little attention to the son, yet chastizes him for not working hard enough. The son doesn’t understand that he’s doing nothing wrong, and will probably never live up to his father’s expectations.
This disconnect between father and son becomes clearer (at least it seems that way to Ryota) when it is revealed that Kieto was switched with another boy at birth. Ryota and his wife have been raising the biological son of another married couple. When this is revealed, and Ryota finds out that Kieto’s real father is a bumbling storeowner, they must decide whether to “exchange” the boys or keep them. Kore-eda’s film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year, is patient and affecting. Ryota isn’t a good father, or even a particularly good human being, but he’s not bad, either. The feelings between the two families are sometimes affectionate and sometimes bitter, but usually, and most accurately, they’re just messy.
Like Father, Like Son makes its North American premiere at the Winter Garden Theatre on Saturday at 4:30pm. It will also play at 10:00am the following Sunday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Alan Jones writes about film for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @alanjonesxxxv.