Hirokazu Koreeda's childhood fable is a small, poignant film that fulfils its humble ambitions
Somewhere between the cheery naturalism of Wong Kar-wai’s Chunking Express and the warm whimsy of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s I Wish delivers a slight, but powerful story about growing up. No Hollywood-style sentimental voiceovers or heavy-handed life lessons are on offer here, just a delicate, life-affirming story about family life recovering from a divorce.
Koichi (Koki Maeda) and the younger Ryunosuke (Ohshirô Maeda) have a strong bond, tested when Koichi is sent away to live in Kagoshima, where a nearby volcano is constantly spreading ashes over the surrounding area. Koichi wishes that the volcano would actually erupt, allowing him to return to his family home in Osaka. After hearing an urban legend which suggests that when two bullet trains pass each other for the first time, wishes are granted and miracles happen, Koichi and Ryunosuke arrange to meet up halfway along the tracks in Kyushu.
As with Shane Meadows’ Somers Town, I Wish was created as part of a rail-company sponsored project to promote their newest line, but despite the commercial reasons for its existence, Koreeda retains the same exquisite sensitivity demonstrated in previous films After Life, Nobody Knows and Still Walking. Anchored by delightful performances from the Maeda brothers, Koreeda’s film is shot through with moments of insight, compassionately observing a gallery of parents, grandparents and passers-by as the brothers close in on their destination. And there’s a bitter-sweet sense of reality about the enterprise; no-one suggests that the children’s dreams will actually come true, and the way that their dreams change artfully suggests a maturing process.
A small film with humble ambitions, I Wish is a gentle piece that children may find dull, but tearful adults will recognize that Koreeda captures the essence of childhood dreams.
Screening at GFT, Glasgow, Thu 7 Feb as part of the Glasgow Youth Film Festival. Selected release from Fri 8 Feb.