Children, until a certain age, believe that anything is possible. So when Koichi (Koki Maeda), struggling to come to terms with his parents separation, hears a rumour that if you stand at the exact point where two bullet trains pass each other, a miracle happens, it didn’t take him long to figure out this was exactly what he needed in order to solve his problem. Miracles might not happen, but Kore-eda‘s I Wish reminds us what can happen when we believe they can.
Set in contemporary Japan, but with a romantic, nostalgic feel, I Wish is the story of two brothers, separated by family strife. Koichi is living with his mother (Nene Ohtsuka) and grandparents in Kagoshima in the shadow of a smoking volcano. His younger brother Ryunosuke (Ohiro Maeda, Koki’s real younger brother) is living in Fukuoka with his wannabe rock-musician father (Jô Odagiri). Both children try to make the most of the divide, but for Koichi in particular, the split is increasingly unbearable. Like so many children of separated parents, he just can’t understand why they can’t be a family again.
Change is coming however, to their area of rural Japan, with the news that the bullet train will soon be coming near them. For adults, technology seems at times so powerful that it is incomprehensible. For children, the idea of a train travelling at 260km/hour is simply magic. Taking this rather literally, Koichi’s friends tell him that such is the speed and energy emanating from the trains that if you stand right near where two trains pass each other, the energy that results is sufficient to make any wish you have at that moment come true. Koichi quickly realizes this is his one chance to bring his family back together.
Hirokazu Kore-eda is a popular and respected director, known particularly for his ability to depict children with sensitivity and a light-touch. Indeed, he did not even give his child actors a script for I Wish, letting them produce natural and spontaneous performances. It is this light-touch that makes I Wish so brilliant: the child characters are complex, each battling with their own particular personal or family problems, but the film never becomes sentimental. Kore-eda’s dedication to ambiguity is similarly productive: this is not a coming-of-age story in the sense that the children find closure and certainty; rather what they learn is that this uncertainty is precisely what life is about in all its exhilaration and terror.
Tender, warm-hearted and uplifting, I Wish manages to confidently tread that fine line between sensitivity and sentimentality. A quiet, un-showy, but highly complex and satisfying drama about growing up in modern Japan.