Like Father Like Son

While not to be confused with the 1987 Dudley Moore body-swap comedy, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest drama also undertakes its own kind of identity experiment, one that organically grows into something altogether more poignant. After dropping us into the controlled, respectable life shared by a white-collar professional, his homemaker wife, and their adorable 6-year-old, the film abruptly broadens after 10 minutes to admit the unexpected: little Keita was switched at birth.

What to do? There is no good, or even good-sounding, solution, as the Nonomiyas and their fellow unfortunates, the bustling, lower-middle-class Sakais, fly blind into a months-long adaptive period of swapping the kids in question in test-run sleepovers, nudged by hospital officials who tell them that all families facing this problem ultimately make the switch. As Keita’s father sniffs at his rumpled electrician counterpart, the story deepens and broadens to sketch in all the burgeoning relationships and the families’ differing lifestyles.

Challenging expectations, we watch as Keita’s father finds his class disdain, masculine pride, and reflexive bossiness sidelined as the kids play and adapt without grown-up preconceptions. The film is dotted with additional culturally specific cues about the differences between the families, and its story makes sound and detailed use of the contrast between the Nonomiyas and Sakais respective routines, dwellings, and extended relations. In Kore-eda’s unassuming manner, it all builds to a compassionate but not sappy conclusion.