The message of Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s new film, I Wish, can be summed up as follows: Despite our best efforts and wishes, the world isn’t how we’d like it to be. Just as in Kore-Eda’s 2004 film Nobody Knows, children who are alone and dealing with a difficult situation are the primary focus. In this case, two brothers struggle with the separation of their parents. The older brother, 12-year old Koichi (Koki Maeda), lives with his mother and retired grandparents in the southern region of Kyushu, Japan, in the shadow of an active volcano. His younger brother Ryunosuke (Ohshiro Maeda) lives far away with his irresponsible father on the northern side of the island. Like his father, Ryunosuke is seemingly carefree and doesn’t seem to mind the great distance. Older, introspective and more like his mother, Koichi is saddened by the separation and yearns for his family to reunite.
Not surprisingly, Koichi is thrilled when he learns of a new bullet train line that connects the two distant areas. When he hears that miracles can occur at the point at which the two trains pass each other, he becomes determined to travel to the midpoint, witness the trains passing each other, and make his wish for a reunited family come true. His younger brother and his friends decide to make the trek as well, each armed with wishes of their own.
Wistful, light and sweet, I Wish narrowly skirts the line of sentimentality. For instance, one character’s dog, Marble, dies causing his owner to change his original wish of becoming a professional baseball player to that of having Marble come back to life. Generally though, the sentimentality is balanced by a pervading somberness. (The parents seem unable to reconcile their differences.)
At its best, the film captures the transition between childhood and believing in such things as miracles to adulthood where disappointment and sexual longing have a place. At one moment, the kids are amazed by an old woman who seems to disappear into thin air, and at the next, they’re marveling at the legs of the school librarian.
There’s also a wonderful contrast between brothers. Koichi is more reserved, pragmatic and aware, and his parents’ separation really hits him. Ryunosuke has an infectious smile and an easier time going with the flow, which makes coping a lot more bearable. In the end, both come to terms with their respective situations but certainly have different methods of getting there. Slow-paced to begin with, I Wish is a bit overlong, and not all the character motivations are completely believable. Nonetheless, everyone can relate to hoping for a world that conforms to one’s wishes.
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Ryoga Hayashi, Seinosuke Nagayoshi, Kyara Uchida, Kanna Hashimoto, Rento Isobe, Nene Ohtsuka, Joe Odagiri, Yui Natsukawa, Masami Nagasawa, Hiroshi Abe, Yoshio Harada, Kirin Kiki, Isao Hashizume
Release Date: May 11, 2012 (limited)