Never underestimate the power of a small boy’s dreams. Koichi and his mother have recently moved in with his grandparents because his parents have divorced. His brother Ryu chose to stay with his father, a would-be musician, and so is separated from his brother and mother by quite some distance. Koichi’s new home is at the bottom of a volcano which is currently emitting copious amounts of ash everyday, much to his annoyance as he constantly has to clean things and rewash articles of clothing. One of his new friends at school (who has recently moved himself) has heard a rumour that if you see two new bullet trains pass each other at 260mph and wish really hard it’s possible for a miracle to happen because of the extraordinary amount of energy being produced. Koichi dreams of nothing else than being a family again with his brother and father and so latches on to this idea immediately, planning to wish for a volcano eruption so the town will be destroyed and they’ll have to move back to Tokyo so that everything will go back as it was before.
Being the sort of very clever boys they are, Koichi and his friends quickly work out where it is that the trains will pass each other, where they’ll need to travel to and how much the train will cost (even remembering to budget in extra for food) - the only snags are getting the money and figuring out a way to get out of school early and be away for a whole day with no-one noticing. They’re going to need help. Koichi rings Ryu and asks him to meet them half way so they can wish on the trains together. Ryu doesn’t really share Koichi’s wish, he’s much happier living alone with his father, possibly because he seems to be in charge of the operation and doing pretty much whatever he likes, but he eventually agrees to come. Ryu’s friends want to come too - oddly they’re all girls, but they all have their troubles they’d like to send away on the train.
The children all set off and wind up having a wonderful old-fashioned adventure, even having to blag their way into an old couple’s home with one of the girls telling the local policeman that the woman in the yard is her grandmother. It turns out the old couple were quite lonely as their only daughter moved to the city and they never see her so they’re very excited to suddenly have a house full of children to stay and even promise to drive them to a place they’ll be able to see the bullet trains. As one of the children says “they’re so nice! I was just warning them about bank frauds.” They might not get their miracles, but each of the children discovers something different watching the trains pass. It’s a sort of loss of innocence but of the gentlest kind and the children all go back to their old lives with a new sense of perspective.
The brothers Koichi and Ryu are played by real life brothers and comedy duo Koki and Oshiro Maeda (aka MaedaMaeda). Koichi is quiet and thoughtful, while Ryu is a mile a minute chatterer who really isn’t fazed by anything. The children’s acting in this film never sinks into that awful child actor mode than can ruin films like this, and all the children deliver very credible and sympathetic performances. Helping them out in surprisingly small roles are some seriously heavyweight names including Kirin Kiki as the boys’ grandmother and familiar faces from previous Kore-Eda films Hiroshi Abe and Yoshio Harada. Despite the subject matter, the film never descends into cutesy melodrama or allows itself to become bogged down with sentimentality.
I Wish might not have the same power or innovation as some of the director’s previous work, but it’s a sweet and gentle look at child’s eye view of the problems of everyday life. Reminiscent of Ozu’s lighter work, particularly Ohayo, this is a film that will put a (perhaps slightly sad) smile on your face.
I Wish (Kiseki) was screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2011