Adult-geared stories with children as subjects are sparkling when crafted with insight and buoyancy; the Japanese adventure “I Wish” exemplifies such filmmaking. Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, the movie is a gentle, joyful brooklet of childhood spirit and experience.
Kore-eda makes quietly satisfying films about damaged families, death and loss and the joys of being alive, depicted with a poignant, thoughtful brush.
“I Wish” is an upbeat complement to his abandoned-children tragedy “Nobody Knows” and an early-years flip side to his looking-back fantasy “After Life.”
Built around a likable gimmick Kore-eda both efficiently exploits and appealingly transcends, the movie combines coming-of-age dramedy, domestic-crisis drama and fairy-tale whimsy. The setting is Kyushu, the Japanese island.
Serious-minded 12-year-old old Koichi (Hirokazu Kore-eda) lives with his divorced mother (Nene Ohtsuka) and his grandparents (Kirin Kiki, Isao Hashizume) in a southern town where ash from an active volcano seems to symbolize his dreary life.
Slightly younger, free-spirited Ryunosuke (Ohshiro Maeda) lives in the north with the brothers’ struggling rock-musician father (Joe Odagiri).
Koichi misses Ryu and aches for the family to reunite.
After hearing that a wish made while standing close two passing bullet trains headed in the opposite direction will come true, the boys decide to try it, in attempts to get back together.
Joined by friends in their respective cities, the kids scour maps, find funding, cut class (a sympathetic school nurse helps out), and travel to a town where the trains will cross paths.
A coming-of-age climax yields an outpouring of wishes, some of which have evolved during the journey in sync with newfound realizations.
As one might expect from a story featuring seven kids and various adults, some of the characters’ wishes and plot lines play weakly. The thespian aspirations of classmate Megumi (Kyara Uchida) and the cake-baking hopes of the boys’ grandfather receive excessive screen time.
But overall, Kore-eda delivers an elegant and entertaining look at children’s inner and outer lives, their means of coping and thriving, and changes that transpire when the workings of adulthood eclipse those of childhood in their maturing minds.
He keeps the sunshine, and the movie, credible by refusing to sidestep hardships and by adding a tinge of melancholy. Not all wishes are feasible, his protagonists learn. Happiness will never be a reality for many a family.
Among the solid young cast, siblings Koki and Ohshiro Maeda, who are child comedians in Japan, carry the day, providing impressive preteen gravitas and goofy charm, respectively.