The Kids Are Better Than Alright – I Wish (2011)

15 Jul

Hirokazu Kore-eda is a filmmaker after my own heart. His previous films often focus on the aftermath of an event that in most films would be the climax  – a husband’s suicide in Marborosi (1995), an act of terrorism and mass suicide in Distance (2001), or the anniversary of a sudden death in Still Walking (2008). This formula resonates strongly with me; it has something to do with a fragmentary moment in time that comes to define your life – who you were before that moment and how indelibly your life is tainted by it. Thus his films often set an undertone of beautiful melancholy. This melancholy can be found in I Wish, but it is beautifully contrasted with the characters’ attempts to find some kind of optimism about their future.

I Wish is the story of two brothers, Koichi and Ryunosake (played by real-life brothers Koki and Ohshirô Maeda), separated by the divorce of their parents. Koichi has moved in with his mother and grandparents to Kagoshima while Ryunosake lives with his father far away in Hakata. Overhearing a conversation between two classmates about the new bullet train service, Koichi becomes convinced that if he witnesses two bullet trains passing each other at 260km/h, a miracle will occur, allowing his most fervent wish – his family to reunite and live in Osaka – to come true. The film mostly chronicles the relationships between the two brothers and their respective friends. Both sets of children discuss their own lives, hopes and dreams, offset by their acute awareness of the failures and disappointments of their own parents.

I Wish is not what you would call plot-heavy. Kore-eda originally came up with only half the script, allowing the later improvisations of the seven main child actors to dictate the remainder of his film. The result is leisurely paced, with a lot of conversation, but also a wonderful kind of authenticity rarely seen in the depiction of children; he captures them at their funniest, not by being overly cute or naive (read: stupid), but by documenting their unusual insights and precociousness. When farewelling an older couple who have been particularly nice to her, one of Ryusake’s friends – a rail-thin girl of no more than ten – whispers to a her friend: “They’re so nice, I warned them to be careful about bank frauds.” Strange reflections such as this are throughout the film. The acting was fairly superb; my one complaint was that Ryusake’s relentlessly happy demeanour made him seem a little like the victim of a head injury, but he had an odd sense of realism that made for a nice contrast with his constant grin.

I Wish does deal with some of the more standard themes of child-focused films, such as youthful optimism in the face of cynical adulthood but does so without clichéd sentimentality. It is a meditation and lamentation on the dreams of children; it is sweet but never saccharine. Highly recommended.

By Tessa Clews

I Wish will be in cinemas on 16th August. For ticketing information and session times visit http://www.rialto.co.nz/

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