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Watched: 7 January

I like the films by Hirokazu Koreeda that I’ve seen to date, but this one is probably my favourite of the lot: an emotional tale of two sets of parents who had sons on the same day in hospital, only to discover six years later that they took home the wrong boys.

There are lots of subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the two families, and the two fathers in particular, whose personalities both seem to inform (and perhaps dominate) their respective home environments. For example architect Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama, a musician as well as an actor) is reasonably wealthy, strict, reserved and dedicated to his work, while shop owner Yudai (the excellent Koreeda regular Lily Franky) is more relaxed, and fun, and he spends more time with his children than Ryota, who has unresolved issues with his own father. And although there’s something contrived about the way Koreeda puts these diametrically-opposed men together within the story, you quickly accept it thanks to excellent performances by the two actors, not to mention the inclusion of well-thought-out details to support the portrayals of the characters, such as the type of car each man drives, the clothes that they wear, the cameras that they own, etc.

There are wonderful performances too by Machiko Ono and Yōko Maki as the two mothers in the story, and – typically of Koreeda’s films – really good turns by all of the child actors involved (in particular Keita Nonomiya, whose character shares the same name). Mikiya Takimoto’s camera glides slowly around the interior of the small apartment and houses that feature, though the close-ups and mid-shots used are contrasted occasionally with sudden long shots within shopping malls and outdoors, which have the effect of immediately rendering the characters more vulnerable. It’s a terrifically well-observed and well-acted drama that kept me interested from the first moment until the last. (****½)