February 21, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Families merge after a tragic mistake in 'Like Father, Like Son'

Masaharu Fukuyama plays a high-powered businessman with great expectations for his son. (Wild Bunch)

Built around an awful and inevitable transition, “Like Father, Like Son” manages to wring both anguish and understanding from a situation that’s been done to death over the years.

Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a high-powered businessman who has great expectations for his 6-year-old son, Keita (Keita Ninomiya), who is mostly being raised by his mother, Midori (Machiko Ono). Keita’s life is private school, piano lessons, goals and high standards.

But then Midori and Ryota are called to the hospital where Keita was born. Blood tests have just shown that Keita isn’t their son; he was switched at birth. Their biological son is being raised by Keita’s real parents, an unambitious shopkeeper, Yudai (Riri Furanki), and his wife Yukari (Yoko Maki).

The families could hardly be less alike. Ryota and Midori live an upper-class life in a high-rise apartment, with the starchy Ryota off at work most of the time. Blue-collar Yudai and Yukari live behind their convenience store, crammed in with two other kids. Yudai bathes with his children and fixes their broken toys. Ryota finds Yudai and his family beneath him.

But his real son is part of that family. And the boy he’s raised will likely eventually be turned over to that family.

The two families join together in suing the hospital and develop an uneasy relationship, knowing that eventually they will have to switch sons. As that time approaches, Ryota struggles with the importance of a bloodline.

The switched-at-birth storyline is something of a cliche, as are the characterizations of the upper class as cold and the lower as warm and loving. But writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s film never feels gimmicky; he uses the situation to examine both nature and nurture while dealing with ties that simply can’t be broken. “Like Father, Like Son” ponders the meaning of family.

'Like Father, Like Son'

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 121 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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