MVFF: Like Father, Like Son (B)

Writer/director/editor Hirokazu Koreeda‘s latest feature Like Father, Like Son (Japanese with English subtitles) won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which primed us with high expectations. Many others at the screening just loved it. I found it to be a very competent and even satisfying film, but not one I’d suggest you go out of your way to see, particularly given how many truly terrific films we’ve already seen at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival.

The setup is simple enough. An upscale Tokyo couple learns their 6-year old son was switched at birth with another boy. (I’m not spoiling the film. This comes out very early.) What happens from then on is to some extent predictable, but handled and presented well. The dilemma, of course, is what to do. Should the boys be returned to their biological families, or are the bonds nurtured after six years so strong they transcend biology?

Japanese films often deal with the expectations of family life, particularly the roles and psychology of husbands and fathers. Within that genre, Like Father, Like Son — notice it’s not entitled Like Mother, Like Son — is a better movie than most. But outside the Japanese family context it’s a bit more ordinary.

You can’t help but get involved in the difficult issues these families must face, and the kids (particularly the tiny Keita Ninomiya) are absolute scene stealers. But when a film like this is done right, you expect to get drawn in to the point of tears. Instead, I found myself appreciating it, but remaining ever so removed and objective — not emotionally invested as much as I should be.

I am rating it a solid B, however. If you like Japanese culture and films — I do — and you particularly respond to films about family issues, then you’ll probably like it. Certainly the jury at Cannes found it exceptional, so take my review as just one amateur critic’s opinion.

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