by Warren Curry
Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s well-regarded 2004 film “Nobody Knows” is the only previous work of the filmmaker’s I’ve seen, and I’ll admit to not having strong feelings about it one way or the other. It struck me as meandering and overly long, though it certainly contains admirable qualities. Like “Nobody Knows,” his new movie, “I Wish” (aka “Kiseki”), also uses children as its protagonists, but is much brighter in tone. I can’t say this film makes as much of an impact on me as it likely intends to, but it features characters you care about and definitely has its heart in the right place.
Real life siblings Koki Maeda and Ohshiro Maeda play brothers Koichi and Ryunosuke, who have lived apart for the past 6 months because of their parents’ divorce. 12-year-old Koichi resides with his mother and her parents in a small town in the southern region of Kyushu island. The younger Ryunosuke lives with his father, a struggling musician, in a city on the northern part of Kyushu. Koichi longs for his family to be reunited.
Koichi learns that a new bullet train line will connect the areas where he and his brother live, and the two boys believe if they make a wish at the moment the northbound and southbound trains pass each other for the first time, it will come true. Of course, traveling to the exact location where the trains will pass is hardly an easy task for such young kids, but with the help of several friends on both sides, Koichi and Ryunosuke are able to set out on a journey they hope will mend their family.
I’ll go out on a pretty strong limb and assert that if “I Wish” was an American studio movie, it would likely revel in the most emotionally obvious (i.e. sappy) territory, but Kore-eda treats the film’s inherent emotionalism in an understated way. The director allows the viewer to develop feelings for these characters organically, instead of bombarding you with scenes of typically cutesy child behavior. The two young main actors, who actually comprise a comedy team in Japan, are so naturally appealing that their behavior doesn’t need to be embellished.
While the tone of the film works well for me, its pacing is haphazard. Whereas “Nobody Knows” at least moves at a consistently deliberate pace, “I Wish” mixes slow and faster scenes, causing it to feel disjointed. The film clocks in at slightly over two hours, which is longer than it needs to be, and some of the movie’s effect is dulled in the process.
That said, “I Wish” is a pleasant film and I appreciate that Kore-eda doesn’t take shortcuts to emotionally connect his audience with his characters. His humanism as an artist is commendable, and though I might prefer some narrative economy to go along with it, it’s clear his movies are connecting with audiences the world over.
I Wish (Japan/2011)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Ryoga Hayashi, Seinosuke Nagayoshi, Kyara Uchida, Kanna Hashimoto, Rento Isobe
Rated PG, 128 minutes
(Magnolia Films. Opens in New York City and Los Angeles on May 11, 2012.)