The most emotionally satisfying solution to the mix-up, at least to the distant observer - the situation remaining status-quo, with the Nonomiya and Saiki families raising their 'adopted' children, rather than their long-separated blood off-spring - is rejected quickly by the professionally driven and rather successful Ryota (Fukuyama Masaharu). Indeed, in keeping with what we are told is the long-held habit of the Japanese people, from an era when such mix-ups were commonplace, Fukuyama's lead defaults to blood, a decision that is made that much easier for Ryota by his adopted son Keita's (Ninomiya Keita, in one of the Nobody Knows and I Wish director's uniformly accomplished child performances) comparative lack of natural ability. In the end, Like Father, Like Son is about Ryota's struggle to overcome the idiom named in the English title: he must at once resist the cold, disinterested parenting style of his own father, and at the same time become the father that he has failed to be, both to his biological offspring Ryusei (Hwang Shôgen) and more importantly, to the loving, loyal (and impossibly cute) Keita. Ryota, in other words, must reject the less and less culturally valid economic and masculine ideal that he has spent his life pursuing.
Through all the above, Kore-eda manages, rather masterfully, to be both universal and culturally specific in his humanistic, paternal melodrama. The same also can be said for his keen eye for middle-class detail - an observational skill perfected previously in the director's Still Walking (2008) - which here finds expression in the chewed straws that restate the film's final thesis or in the Red Lobster setting that provides a meeting point for the families, their attorney and representatives of the negligent rural hospital. (Kore-eda's camera naturally pursues a similarly observational tact that at the same time allows for mimetic grace-notes, such as the concluding rainbow flare that emotionally echoes the film's final, ever-so-slightly unconventional familial reorganization.) Ultimately, Like Father, Like Son, like all the very best Kore-eda, is a robust cinema, a work of precise gestures, carefully crafted familial relations and lived-in (or in the case of the Nonomiya's hotel-like flat: not-so-lived-in) places that do not so much provide added value as they comprise the very substance of the director's sterling middle-range craft.
This piece was written by Michael J. Anderson with significant authorial input from Lisa K. Broad. Like Father, Like Son is now playing in Denver, Minneapolis, New York and a number of additional North American cities (in which I have not lived).