Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu returns with “I Wish” (the film’s Japanese title is “Kiseki”, which translates as “Miracle”), a heart warming tale of two young brothers hoping to bring their separated parents back together. Shot in his usual documentary style, the film is somewhat of a more commercial outing for the acclaimed helmer, being part produced for Japan Rail. At the same time, it’s also one of his most charming, thanks in part to some excellent performances from his young cast, headlined by the 12 year old Maeda Koki and 10 year old Maeda Ohshiro, real life brothers and the two halves of the Maeda Maeda stand-up comedy team. The supporting adult cast is comprised of some very impressive names, including Odagiri Joe (“Dream”), Otsuka Nene (“Hero”), Kiki Kirin (“Villain”), Hashitsume Isao (“Space Battleship Yamato”), Natsukawa Yui (“Still Walking”), Abe Hiroshi (“Trick”), Nagasawa Masami (“The Last Princess”), and Harada Yoshio.
Maeda Koki and Maeda Ohshiro play Koichi and Ryunosuke, two brothers who are now living apart and in different towns due to their mother (Otsuka Nene) and father (Odagiri Joe) splitting up. The two remain in close contact and after one day hearing that the energy created when two bullet trains pass each other for the first time on the new Kyushu line will be enough to grant wishes, they hatch a plan to bring their parents back together. Teaming with a gang of classmates, they decide to try and find the location where the trains will meet in the hope that their wishes will come true.
For anyone familiar with the works of Kore-eda Hirokazu, “I Wish” comes across almost as the positive flipside to his far more depressing “Nobody Knows”, which also followed a group of children being left to their own devices, though with the focus on grim tragedy. Here, he seems in a deliberately upbeat mood, with the film being an utterly charming and frequently very amusing affair, told almost entirely from the point of view of its young protagonists and filled with youthful hope, innocence and infectious exuberance. This isn’t to say that the film is cutesy or childish, and there’s actually a great deal going on, including various subplots that kind of drift in and out of the main narrative, and it’s here that Kore-eda’s true skill as a storyteller really shines, as he manages to say and convey a great deal without devoting much screen time. Similarly, whilst the basic premise may seem simple, the story doesn’t play out as expected, with a surprising lack of sentimentality or artificial drama, emerging as a grounded, pre-teen “Stand by Me” type tale about coming of age.
Kore-eda as usual goes for a naturalistic, near improvised feel, his camera capturing the everyday lives of his characters with a subtly intimate though objective air and a magical eye for detail. Visually, he still manages to work in some moments of quiet beauty throughout, showing an Ozu like fascination with railways, and seeming to draw a connection between the speed and vitality of the trains and their opening up of the country and the children as the next generation and the hope for the future. The child actors are all superb and wholly believable, with the Maedas both being adorable and having a great chemistry together, and with the rest of the non-professional youngsters also doing a great job. Despite the big names amongst the supporting cast, the adult characters remain largely in the background for the duration, and the film is certainly the better for it, their presence never distracting from the main plot or intruding on the child’s point of view which Kore-eda is clearly revelling in.
As a result, “I Wish” is arguably his most entertaining and purely enjoyable film for years, captivating the viewer from start to finish with its boundless enthusiasm. A genuine and joyful depiction of the wonders of childhood, the film is amazingly and effortlessly affecting, and should appeal to a much wider fan base than is usual for often arthouse-pigeonholed director.
Hirokazu Koreeda (director) / Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)
CAST: Koki Maeda