After a long period of silence, it seems there’s something of a Kore-eda renaissance creeping up in the UK. Recently we’ve seen a release of Kore-eda’s strange romantic not-quite comedy Air Doll (excellently reviewed by our very own Martin over here) from Matchbox Films, who’ve also collected together the previously available titles from Drakes Avenue, ICA and Soda Pictures - Still Walking, After Life and Nobody Knows respectively. Now we’re finally being treated to 2011’s bittersweet film about what it is to grow up and all the painful compromises and realisations that come with age - I Wish (Kiseki).
Following his parents' divorce, twelve year old Koichi has moved from the bustling metropolis of Osaka to the comparatively parochial Kagoshima way down in the southernmost tip of Kyushu with his mother to live with her family. His younger brother Ryunosuke has chosen to live with their father in his home town of Fukuoka way up on Kyushu’s northern coast. As you might imagine, a parental divorce and enforced separation from one’s parent and sibling would be a difficult adjustment for anyone, and though Koichi seems to be coping with the situation as best he can he longs for the day when all this is going to be sorted out and the four members of his family can once again live under the same roof. Ryunosuke, by contrast, is revelling in his new found freedom with his rather spaced-out father and seems very excited about the prospect of his recently planted broad beans coming through in the spring.
The brothers communicate sporadically through a special telephone where they update each other about their parents’ activities and the necessity of preventing them forming any other attachments that might prevent a reconciliation. So when Koichi hears a rumour that when the new bullet trains connecting Kagoshima and Fukuoka begin to operate and pass each other at a specific point the energy generated would be so great that the wishes of those witnessing it would have to be granted he hatches a plan. Along with two school friends (each with a wish of his own) and arranging to meet his brother coming in the other direction, Koichi and company head out to find the place where this miracle is said to take place.
I Wish is the sort of film you’d think couldn’t be made anymore - a group of children going on a crazy adventure where they meet only nice people and nothing bad happens to them at all. The only harsh life lessons are the ones all children have to learn as part of growing up, and are things they largely figure out for themselves about who they really are and what sort of world they want to live in. In a direct contrast with his previous film Nobody Knows, where a group of siblings are forced to fend for themselves in a tiny Tokyo apartment with disastrous results, these children live in a world that’s warm and hopeful - wherever they go they seem to be supported by friendly and well-meaning adults who are well disposed to help them. Unlike some of his more hard-hitting films, there is the sense that however bad things seem right now it’s going to be okay in the end - even if it’s not the version of okay that you were most hoping for.
The real coup here though is in the casting - the unfortunate tendency of films led by child actors is that the filmmakers often tend to pick the cutest children over the ones who can act, with the consequence that you end up with a film full of insufferable, precocious kids. Not that these kids aren’t cute (they are of course, in spades) but they all give fantastically real and well-rounded performances. Koichi and Ryonsuke are played by real life brothers & comedy duo Koki and Ohshiro Maeda (aka MaedaMaeda) who are obviously very used to bouncing off each other and of course have a real bond. Koki’s Koichi is the contemplative older brother whose sensitivity and big soulful eyes give him an odd sense of gravitas for a twelve year old boy whereas Ohshiro’s Ryunosuke is a total livewire; always on the go and talking at a mile a minute, but who may actually be the more mature of the two.
I Wish is certainly Kore-eda’s most cheerful film recently - even if all the characters have their various problems and sadnesses a real sense of warmth still shines though. Full of gentle comedy shot through with a Chekhovian sense of the sorrow behind the laughter, this is a film that manages to balance the bitter with the sweet to just the right degree (just like grandpa’s Karukan cake). Absolutely charming.
I Wish is released theatrically 8th February at selected cinemas nationwide.