The cardinal rule of writing is, “Know your audience.” You don’t write reviews for films your readership is unlikely to watch. But then rules are meant to be broken, especially where a film like Like Father, Like Son is concerned.
Let me get this out of the way right up front – this is a foreign language film. That is to say, it’s in Japanese with English subtitles. Now, for many filmgoers, that might be just enough to stop you reading. But it shouldn’t if you spare a moment thinking through some of the past greats. Life Is Beautiful was in Italian, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was in Chinese, The Passion Of The Christ was in Latin – and all turned out to be valuable, award winning productions. What foreign language film tend to mean, though, is that you have to be prepared to think. It’s not ‘veg-out Friday night’ material, if you get what I mean. Thankfully, Like Father, Like Son is well worth the concentration.
The story focuses on the life of successful businessman Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama), a man whose almost constant preoccupation with work leaves him little time for his wife Midori or his six year old son Keita. However his neatly ordered existence begins to fracture when he receives the news that his son is not his own – a tragic incident at the hospital led to them receiving another family’s child. Now Ryota and Midori must decide whether or not to keep the boy they have raised for six years, or swap him for their biological child. But as the Nonomiyas get to know the family that has raised their real son the film’s question soon shifts to whether Ryota would make a good father for any child?
Like Father Like Son is one of those rare films that keeps the viewer emotionally engaged the whole two hours. It evolves into a compelling investigation into how the bonds between fathers and sons are forged. Japan has always had a strong respect for value of blood-ties, but this production shows that culture wrestling with a question that now perplexes much of the western world: can an emphasis on the individual actually result in a happy family collective? It’s only as Ryota learns to look away from his own goals, expectations and past and towards his wife and son’s needs that he actually begins to become the father that he should be. The resulting lesson is clear: families are not built on biology but the frameworks of care and concern that parents build around their children.
But, once forged, Ryota learns that the bond of fatherhood is not easily set aside. Years of youth work have underlined for me the power of the bonds forged between dads and sons. It was amazing, sometimes disturbing, to see just how strong that link remained even for fathers who’d done their children no favours at all. I think in some sense it explains the continuing strong connection between ourselves and our Heavenly Father, however much we might act to put it aside. Look in any direction you like and you will see part of the framework of care and concern God has constructed for us – the natural world, our friends and families, the amazing bodies we inhabit. Look to the cross and you will see the greatest evidence of all. We might act to put that connection aside but, just like fathers and sons, links like that are not easily broken.
Release Date: April 17