Anyone even vaguely familiar with Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda will know of his astute ability to excavate the emotions at the core of family life. His tenth feature, I Wish (Kiseki, 2011), feels a lot like a follow-up to Nobody Knows (2004) in which he tells of a young boy who cares for his siblings after their mother apparently deserts them. Here, he casts real-life brothers Koki and Ohshirô Maeda as Koichi and Ryunosuke who are split up after their parents separate. When Koichi overhears the plans for a new bullet train, he becomes convinced of the rumour that when the two trains pass each other, a raw bolt of energy will manifest and grant wishes.
The first act is very mindful and deliberate. Koichi ponders the significance of the erupted volcano that steals the horizon, asking why everyone is so calm when ash is falling from the sky. He quietly attends classes while he and his friends dream on harmless adolescent pleasures. A line is drawn from his loneliness to the contentment of his brother, seemingly living a more fulfilled life with his father.
Kore-eda instils a marvellously rich tone in this first act, full of mixed emotions, disrupted family dynamics and hopes for the future, all of which avoid mawkishness. There are some misplaced musical interludes but the film is largely energised by a delicately whimsical score. The second act is a blissful adventure, a cathartic round-trip through suburban Japan as the youngsters unite and embark on a journey to see the trains cross tracks. We await the result of their mission in the same way Éric Rohmer built magical tension in The Green Ray (1986).
The beauty of I Wish is that for every adventure, a sacrifice is made. Kore-eda himself has pointed out that this is a film in which loss and growth occur simultaneously. When the kids set out on their journey, they abandon the fears and uncertainties of childhood and embrace the autonomy of the adult world. By the same token however, they take hold of their youth with both hands and heroically set out to conquer their woes in a manner which most adults don’t. In this regard, I Wish is exceptionally balanced; as joyous as it is upsetting, valiant as it is humble, mystical as it is authentic.
One could argue that filmmaking is a series of trade-offs, an attempt to discover auteurism while avoiding excess, boldness while avoiding truculence – Kore-eda has strived to create something whole and uncompromising. The miracle that all of I Wish’s characters are in search of is mostly inconsequential, as the realisation that life itself is a cycle of wonder provides more comfort and importance than the trivial aspects of our behaviour.
Win a Blu-ray copy of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s I Wish with our latest competition. Follow this link to enter.