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Japan 2011
Directed by
Hirokazu Kore-eda
128 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

I Wish

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda) and his younger brother Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda) no longer live together, due to their parents’ separation. Koichi, who lives with his Mum and grandparents, desperately wishes for his family to be reunited, while Ryu seems happy enough living with his musician father. When Koichi hears that the new Bullet Train is coming to the island of Kyushu where he lives, he also hears a rumour that, when two such trains pass, you have a magical opportunity to wish for miracles. Eventually both brothers and their little bands of friends decide to meet up where the trains pass and throw their wishes out to the universe.

This unusual film from the highly regarded director Hirokazu Kore-eda won Best Screenplay at San Sebastian 2011, It is a slice of life from a part of Japan not much seen by Westerners. I found myself totally mesmerised, but to be honest, I suspect that it could be confusing in some ways for people unfamiliar with aspects of ordinary Japanese society. Even figuring out who were the many characters who come briefly into the story took me a while and, at least from my non-native perspective, the film needed a firm cut by about 15 minutes.

Having stated my reservations, I would also say that I Wish is a remarkably sweet story, delicately directed, with two brilliant performances by real-life brothers at its centre. Both are such likeable, almost adorable, characters – Koichi is fascinated by the nearby volcano which constantly belches ash onto his town of Kagoshima. His secret wish is that it will erupt, causing the town to evacuate and enabling his family to reunite. The younger Ryu is an exuberant, bubbly ball of energy with an infectious grin.  

The film takes us into many aspects of the boys’ lives. We meet them at their respective schools, at swimming classes, and with their groups of friends. It is fascinating to see how differently Japanese children come across compared to their often-brattish Hollywood equivalents – all are articulate, respectful of elders, inquisitive, and, mostly, full of a real joy in life.

The group of school friends come across as utterly credible characters, as do the adults. Grandfather and his elderly pals are obsessed with drinking, smoking and a special local delicacy of sponge cake which Koichi helps to bake, while Dad is a variety of the wastrel muso who really is not cut out for family life. The women, Mum, Grandma and the mother of one of Ryu’s friends are all somewhat different from the usual style of Japanese women we see in films. They all have a modern sensibility, are outspoken and self-assured. Older folks are shown with dignity and purpose and in one delightful episode we get to see the generosity of spirit of the Japanese people, something visitors to the country are made quickly aware of. But the film is really about the kids and their hopes for their lives. It is a film about growing up, accepting some of life’s harsh realities, but with a strong focus on the day-to-day minutiae of simply existing and enjoying childhood.  

Not a lot of high drama happens, but the gentleness of the tale and the pleasure in observing the kids makes I Wish worthwhile. And for those who love Japan, it is not to be missed.




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