If you discovered that the child you had raised for the first six years of his young life was not yours, having been swapped in the hospital were he was born, and was brought up by another family, what would you do? This is the parental dilemma that faces two families, each of differing social status in modern day Japan. Keira has been raised by a middle class workaholic architect Nonomiya Ryota and his wife Midori in an expensive apartment that resembles more a hotel suite than a home and is expected to gain entry to a good school and make his father proud. It's during this entry process that a blood test casts doubt on his parentage. The other family is working class. Father Saiki Yudai is a shopkeeper and along with his wife has been raising Ryusei as his own. If the families swop the children will these two six year olds cope any better than the grown ups?
It's a real shame that more of Dumfries and Galloway’s movie going public did not attend the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening of Hirokazu Kore-eda's wonderful Like Father, Like Son (2013) because I can assure you that they missed something really special. Introduced by Alec Barclay who reminded us of some of Kore-eda's previous work, for which he also wrote the scripts and edited. The last one was 2011's I Wish which stars real life brothers Koki and Oshiro Maeda and tells a story about two young brothers who live separated in different cities after their mother and father have broken up, but dream of reuniting. Prior to this, and also shown at South West Scotland's premier independent cinema, was Still Walking (2008). Set almost entirely during a 24-hour period, this film examines the tensions that arise when a middle class family gathers at the family home to observe the thirteenth anniversary of the tragic death of the younger of two sons’ while saving another boy from drowning.
Both these socially aware movies are similar to Like Father, Like Son in that they explore themes of family life in contemporary Japan, although this time it concentrates mainly on the fathers. Winning the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival it proves yet again that Kore-eda is a master at directing children always managing to get the best out of them. This slow burning movie is an intimate examination of personal conflict that’s both rich and rewarding, but at the same time emotionally draining. A film that highlights a culture that may seem alien to our own but is immensely intriguing all the same. As usual Peter Bradshaw sums it in his Guardian review by describing the film as ‘small of gesture but huge of heart’. I can say with hand on heart that those who bothered to attend the screening were culturally recompensed.