Sweet, charming and utterly uplifting, master filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu (After Life, Still Walking, Hana) returns with his first feature-length film since Air Doll…
12-year-old Kochi (Koki Maeda) and his younger brother Ryunosuke (Oshiro Maeda) have been separated since their parents divorce, both choosing to live with one of their respective parents. Kochi lives with his mother (Nene Otsuka, The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker) and grandparents in Kagoshima, under the shadow of the still active and rumbling Sakura-jima volcano.
His brother Ryunosuke lives a rather less regimented, free-spirited existence with his father (Joe Odagiri, Adrift In Tokyo, My Way), a struggling rock-musician in Fukuoka. A newly completed bullet train line will connect their two cities. But when Kochi hears that the intense energy created by the trains passing in opposite directions can make wishes come true, he and Ryunosuke (and all their friends) decide to meet halfway and watch the trains pass, in the hope that they can get their parents back together…
Director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest film I Wish could be his warmest yet, containing the innocent and naïve outlook that his leads so often possess, but sidestepping the cynicism that permeates films such as Air Doll. It’s a joyous celebration not only of youthful exuberance, but a rosy, overwhelmingly optimistic worldview that evokes the children’s stories of the past, such as Edith Nesbit or Enid Blyton.
There’s no menace in this world, or danger; adults are supportive and friendly. Indeed, this could hardly be further from Kore-eda’s previous film to focus on children, the dark Nobody Knows, based on a real life case (though partly sanitised by Kore-eda) of child-abandonment.
There are parallels to be found with Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda, which played at the 2012 London Film Festival, about a similarly aged young girl and her efforts to buy a bicycle in Saudi Arabia’s restrictive society, while her parents relationship falls apart. Unlike Wadjda, Kore-eda keeps much of the boys parents dissipating marriage off-screen, with few flashbacks. Of course, I Wish is not anywhere near as political either, which Wadjda managed to be pretty much by just existing.
The different personalities of the brothers, no doubt partly reworked after they were cast, are played out well. Kochi is the responsible, older child, Ryunosuke more care free, reflecting the attributes from the respective parents they’ve chosen to stay with (and showing the personality traits that helped drive their parents apart).
His ability to get naturalistic, relaxed performances from his child cast is outstanding. His technique relies on telling his young performers the subject matter, but letting them improvise the dialogue. The results are fantastic; the obvious rapport between real life brothers and comedy duo (which seems an odd description in ones so young) Koki and Oshiro works well on screen, but all the young cast are exemplary.
The sassy, knowing dialogue is all the more believable by not being scripted. Discussing their dad’s latest CD, Ryunosuke describes him as still being on an indie label, then asks his older brother ‘What does ‘Indie’ mean?’ ‘I think it means he needs to work harder!’ Kochi replies.
The observational comedy, played with light touches by Kore-eda, is part of what makes this film so successful. His matter-of-fact, almost documentary approach stops the film from becoming saccharine. Surrounding his young cast with familiar faces, the adult cast excel, without dominating their young counterparts. Joe Odagiri is once again effortlessly cool, a rather less ‘dropped’ out version of his character in Adrift in Tokyo. Though veteran Kirin Kiki, in particular, steals the show as the boy’s grandmother.
It’s easy to read more into the benign but dominating presence of the Sakura-jima volcano throughout the film, so typical of the geology in Japan that caused such devastating events in Fukushima. But that’s projection on my part; the film had been long completed, even though its release was a few months after the Tōhoku earthquake, as Kore-eda pointed out in a recent email interview; he simply replied that the film had been finished, so there was no thought of revision.
Perhaps it’s just Kore-eda’s overwhelmingly positive outlook gives greater poignancy to the brother’s wishes, and if this feels a little insubstantial against Kore-eda’s previous work it still has ‘feel good’ written all over it. And maybe that’s just what we all need.
It’s said that one of the main intentions to the movie was ‘to create a film that would be loved by people for a long time’. Kore-eda just might have done that…
I Wish is released on UK DVD and Blu-Ray by Arrow Films on 27 May. A collection of his previous films is released by Matchbox Films on 11 February.
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Review originally published 4 February 2013.
Distributor: Arrow Films (UK)
Editions: Blu-Ray, DVD (2013)
Both DVD and Blu-Ray include ‘What Would Your Wish Be?’, an impressive featurette with the cast and director, and a trailer