22 Feb-28 Feb, 2013; DCA
No archetype of recent Hollywood cinema is quite as insufferable as the idealised child, usually portrayed as unblemished, heavenly little bundles of perfection, too flawless, precocious and squeaky-clean to be genuine or sympathetic. So when a film arrives that paints children in a totally unsentimental light, thanks in large part to a young ensemble cast of such quality that the adults surrounding them look a little wooden by comparison, this is cause for celebration. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a more charming array of children than the main cast of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s beguiling, effervescent family drama I Wish.
Young Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives modestly in the ever-present shadow of an active volcano, which every so often coats his home-town in a layer of ash. A child of recently separated parents, Koichi is a reserved boy now in the care of his mother and grandparents; his extrovert younger brother Ryuonsuke (Oshirô Maeda) lives with their father, a slurring, shaggy-haired aspiring independent musician sifting through jobs while trying to secure his band their big break. Unhappy at the breakup of his family, Koichi wants nothing more than for the four of them to live together again and soon sees an opportunity to re-establish the family unit. Upon hearing that the force created by two high-speed trains passing each other is powerful enough to produce a miracle, Koichi conspires with two of his friends to meet with Ryuonsuke and proceed to the crossing point of the new bullet trains, where they will all shout their deepest, most heartfelt wishes as the locomotives speed past.
While it is the brothers’ story which drives the narrative, a collection of subplots surround it, producing a finely-woven tapestry of youthful dreams. From aspiring actress Megumi (Kara Uchida) facing up to the harsh criticisms of her cynical and faded starlet mother, to the pre-pubescent crush of Koichi’s friend on the school librarian, I Wish‘s many storiesare rich in detail and huge in heart. Despite the large cast, at no point does the film feel overstuffed or aimless, and the leisurely running time of 2 hours and 18 minutes positively flies by.
It is clear from the outset that Kore-eda trusts his audience’s intelligence and patience. Free of editing gimmicks or auteuristic affectations, I Wish pulses with more life, authenticity and generosity than any Oscar wannabe film. Visually resplendent, despite using a variety of seemingly ordinary locations including cramped domestic interiors, swimming pools, flea-pit clubs and wild gardens full of cosmos flowers, Kore-eda creates a believable, vibrant world on screen. With the help of Quruli’s light, country-inflected musical score, audiences will be completely immersed in Koichi and Ryunsuke’s two separate worlds in a way that all the 3D and CGI in the world can only dream of replicating.
Kore-eda is also a master of mood, and the film is shot through with a gentle, genuine sense of humour. The montage of Koichi and his friends collecting money and making plans for their journey effectively illustrates the sense of adventure and occasion felt by these children. However, for all the comedy and wonderment, Kore-eda never neglects the sadness and confusion felt by these youngsters; growing up in a world that they do not fully understand, and one that will not bend over backwards to make them happy. As symbolised by the frequent clearing away of the falling ash from the volcano, life will simply carry on regardless of their feelings, and if they do not learn to accept the hardships that beset them daily, they will soon be buried and left behind.
It is a moving message, and one that the luminous, totally natural performances of the young stars elevates to astounding heights. These are complicated, fully-realised people with young dreams and young foibles: they dislike homework, steal parts from their teachers’ bicycles, wax lyrical aboutBayblades, etc. In other words, they act like actualchildren, and become so much more sympathetic as a result. The stand-out performances are undoubtedly Koichi and Ryuonsuke, played by real-life brothers. From the quiet, stoic stillness of Koichi to the peppy, hyperactive Ryuonsuke, the two brothers anchor the entire film with their spiky chemistry, and are a delight to the very end. In I Wish Kore-eda has brought both their world and their struggles to life with such wisdom, charm, grace and clarity that audiences would feel happy to stay in that world just to see what would happen next. At the very least, it means not having to endure another of those infuriatingly wise-beyond-their-years children that modern cinema so loves to portray. Such films think they know children? They wish.