A dream come true for preteen
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, May 25, 2012
The original Japanese title of “I Wish” translates literally, and aptly, as “Miracle.” The endearing new movie by writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“After Life,” “Nobody Knows”) does deal in marvels, although not of the parting-the-Red-Sea variety. It’s about the wonders of everyday life, and of childhood imagination.
The latter allows the movie’s central characters to suppose that the opening of a new bullet-train line will offer a magical opportunity. That’s what 12-year-old Koichi hears from his classmates: The first time the northbound and southbound trains pass, the wave energy will be so strong that witnesses will be granted a wish.
Koichi definitely has something he wants -- his old life back -- and achieving it seems to require some kind of sorcery. He and his mother recently moved to Kagoshima, a city blanketed with ash from an active volcano, where they live with her parents.
Koichi wishes for his mom and dad’s reconciliation, and a reunited family that also includes his younger brother, Ryu, who lives with their father in Fukuoka, about 140 miles away. (The boys are marvelously played by Koki and Ohshiro Maeda, who are real-life siblings and a successful comedy duo.)
By cellphone, the cautious, somewhat glum Koichi plots with the ebullient, resourceful Ryu. They’ll skip school and arrive the night before at a midpoint where they expect the trains to meet. As the plan progresses, the travel party grows. When the brothers finally converge, Koichi has brought two friends; Ryu, three.
The kids have previously announced their wishes, which include becoming an actress or a baseball star, or marrying the pretty librarian the boys at Koichi’s school all adore. But by the time the trains arrive, some of the friends have revised their requests -- and one blurts a heartbreaking plea he’d never mentioned to his friends.
It’s not just the kids who have childlike dreams. The boys’ father aspires to rock stardom, an ambition that undermined his marriage; their grandfather fantasizes that the new trains will create a market for his old-fashioned cakes. Their mother is more practical, but even she has a moment of simple, joyous amazement. And, in one lovely sequence, the would-be actress and a lonely elderly couple have their hopes fulfilled.
Kore-eda’s earliest films were documentaries, and he still pays close attention to the texture of daily existence. “I Wish” is assembled from short scenes that follow many characters, so at first it may seem meandering. The vignettes are linked as much by theme as story, yet they’re carefully structured and delicately balanced. Even during the movie’s smile-inducing second half, which surges on the seven children’s infectious excitement, there are always poignant undercurrents.
Contains alcohol and cigarette use, but no violence or sexuality. In Japanese with English subtitles.