Any film coming out of Japan can only make you think of the latest J-Horror or Manga. But wait, there’s more. I Wish breaks that assumption as a heart-warming family comedy-drama, focusing on two separated brothers. It’s a simple tale that will evoke childhood memories of youth, innocence and most of all, dreams. One definitely didn’t expect that.
12-year old Koichi (Maeda Koki) lives with his mother and grandparents in a town with an active volcano looming over them, while his younger brother Ryunosuke (real-life sibling Maeda Ohshirô) is residing with their musician father in the north of the country. Although his parents no longer speak to each other, he is in constant communication with his little brother, missing him dearly.
What he hopes is that one-day the family would be reunited, and hears from a classmate that if he makes a wish at the point of where two bullet trains meet, it will come true. So he concocts a plan with Ryunosuke and each of their friends to go on an adventure to fulfil their dreams.
Like with most family-orientated films, it’s always the children which stand out. Maeda Koki is superb as the withdrawn solemn brother wishing for change, while Maeda Ohshirô displays the opposite as a happy-go-lucky child, cheerfully doing whatever he is told.
But it’s not only them which make story, as their respective friends all have their own part to play in providing a richer and grander narrative; aspiring child actress Megumi has the pains of having a discouraging mother, while Kochi’s two friends find their own troubles with a gambling father and an ageing dog (not to mention the adoration of a female teacher). You also have Kochi’s parents and grandparents providing amusing support with their various quirks and habits, contributing to their hopes of achieving the improbable.
Very much an observational comedy, these idiosyncrasies from the children and adults will no doubt be of interesting viewing, especially if audiences have no idea of the Japanese way of life. The trouble is, a few of the jokes and retorts associated with the culture will surely go over people’s heads. What’s more, there are few moments when you’re not actually sure what quite happened.
The other issue is that it is horribly cruel for the parents to take one child each, especially as the father appears to be a free-spirit with his rock band. But the film is so sweet-natured that you don’t really worry too much about what happened, but rather what will happen. Or more to the point, how things will happen.
As with most adventures, it is the journey that is the most interesting part – following these kids in innocently reaching their goal will certainly bring flashbacks to your childhood aspirations, no matter how different they were. When the group finally get to their destination, you feel like willing them on and wishing what they all want will come true.
Accompanied by a tender score, director Hirokazu Koreeda shows that all the little details littered throughout the film make the bigger picture, from the teacher’s bicycle bell to the grandfather’s mellow tasting cake. It’s a wonderful refreshing change from the dark and serious world of how dysfunctional and separated families are generally portrayed. I Wish is a world cinema triumph – we can only yearn for more releases to be this beautifully-crafted and uplifting.