By Annabelle Udo-O’Malley
In November 2013, a Japanese man in Tokyo was awarded approximately 38 million Yen in damages after finding out that a DNA testing revealed that 60 years ago he and another baby were switched at birth when a hospital worker bathed two newborns and mistakenly returned them to the wrong mothers.
Certainly, the approximate equivalent of US $137,000 vs. the $2.5 million he had initially sought, cannot repay this man’s anguish who not only endured a life of intense poverty and hardship but found out that he was actually born with a silver spoon in his mouth. What seems like a bombastic tabloid story continued to unfold as the other man who took his place had the opportunity to be privately tutored and go to an elite university becoming the CEO of a large company. Meanwhile the other man’s life was fraught with a magnitude of economic challenges including having to work multiple jobs to help support the family after his father died when he was younger. The real-life story continues as the two men make amends to right someone else’s “F”-up but in the meantime makes for a great storyline for a movie.
Enter “Like Father, Like Son”, a new film by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, which beautifully dramatizes this rich man, poor man baby switching scenario. By Kore-Eda’s treating the issue with a certain carefulness and fragility, this film which took the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival could have easily been an overly heart-wrenching tear-jerker but instead turns out to be a heartfelt and thoughtful story about two couples with 6-year-old sons who learn that their sons were switched at the hospital. One child was born to a procrastinating, yet, philosophical shopkeeper, Yudai (Riri Furanki) and the other to the protagonist of the story, Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama), an overachieving architect.
The film captures well the dichotomy of piano lessons vs. kite flying, shaking hands vs. hugging, and high-rise vs. shotgun shack — those things that make one ponder as to what comprises a life well-lived. “Like Father, Like Son” follows the journey of Ryota who needs to put himself to trial as he comes to grips not only with his own ethical response to keeping or trading his child but as well reflecting on his own fractured relationship with both his father and his own fatherhood.
Filled with wonderful whimsical moments from the cast of children who portray the swapped sons and the siblings, there are certainly moments of languishing pain that through it all ultimately bring the wives closer as they find each other to be their own support systems.
With the right amounts of poetic twists and dramatic turns, “Like Father, Like Son” eases you into this world unknown without the heightened shock one often finds in the sensationalized and voyeuristic world of reality show consumption.
“Like Father, Like Son” opens Friday, February 14, 2014 at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinemas, 601 Van Ness in San Francisco and Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.