It's been only a year since The Other Son but already here comes another swapped at birth story. The premise is so er, pregnant with possibilities it's easy to see why this is such a well explored theme in fictional storytelling. It's impossible not to ask yourself the question, how would you feel if you found out your child is not biologically yours?
Two couples with their 6-year-old sons switched at birth. To swap or not to swap?
In an elegant Tokyo apartment we meet Ryota and Midori Nonomiya, a fairly well-off couple with a 6-year-old son, Keita. Their domestic harmony is thrown into chaos when they learn that their beloved Keita is not their biological son, that a mix up at the hospital where he was born resulted in two couples taking home the wrong boy. Although we get to see a fair bit of both couples, the story is mainly from the perspective of Ryota and Midori.
As you'd expect, much of the film is focussed on the difference between the two families. the Nonomiyas have money and security although workaholic Ryota spends little time on his son or displays much affection towards him. By contrast the less wealthy father Yukari may be a bit of a bludger, but loves to play with son Ryusei and his two siblings. Ryota's hidden agenda to gain custody of both boys is at odds with the fact that neither prefer him as a father, in fact the film's title refers more to Ryota inheriting his father's cold and neglectful parenting than it does to any resemblance to the two kids.
Ryota provides financial security but little affection for son Keita.
For much of the film the two sets of parents procrastinate as to whether to go ahead with 'swapping' their children. Everyone wants what's best for the kids but good intentions don't prevent conflict from occurring.
Despite the powder keg of a subject, director Kore-eda keeps a lid on emotions, consistent with his trademark approach of refined understatement. For the most part this makes for an absorbing character study of adults and children dealing with a complex situation. It's only in the final stretches that the film strays off course and loses some dramatic steam. It actually feels longer than its 2 hours.
Midori with Keita, the boy she has raised, believing him to be her son.
Performances all around are natural and expertly calibrated, and the script never descends into soap opera territory. The low-key authenticity is to be commended, but occasionally you just wish there was more of an emotional payoff.