Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's finest films have been moving, delicate studies of people having to deal with the daily elements of life - I Wish is no exception, though it forms a bookend to the director's worldwide breakthrough film Nobody Knows, of which it seems to be the mirror positive. In common, both films are about children learning to deal with the adult world around them; but where that world in Nobody Knows was one of loneliness and alienation for its children left to their own devices by an absent mother, in I Wish it is a peaceful place of friendship and kindness. It's only logical, since at its hear is a child's wish to make whole what was rent asunder, and Mr. Kore-eda tells his story from a child's point of view.
When their parents divorced, brothers Koichi and Ryu (real-life brothers Koki and Ohshiro Maeda) were separated along with them: the older, more dour Koichi lives with his mother at his grandparents' in Kagoshima, the younger and perpetually happy Ryu with his struggling musician father in Fukuoka. A new bullet-train connection and a legend that a wish will come true at the point two trains cross each other in opposite directions leads Koichi to devise a plan - head to the nearest spot where they cross and wish for the family to be back together. Mr. Kore-eda takes great pleasure in having us follow the two brothers' separate lives up to their meeting, allowing their tales to ramble on amiably soundtracked Quruli's rather overbearing acoustic stylings.
Therein lies the problem that brings I Wish a notch below both Nobody Knows and the previous, equally remarkable Still Walking: besides a burdensome soundtrack that makes it more of a children's movie than it actually is, that rambling quality sees the film lose focus on the way to a truly magnificent final act where everything comes together as it should. True, it's questionable whether that final act would be as powerful without that rambling (especially since the director is, as he has always been, his own editor). It's just that, after the magic of what Mr. Kore-eda presented us with in previous films, I Wish being "merely" very good carries a trace element of disappointment.
Cast: Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda, Nene Ohtsuka, Joe Odagiri, Ryoga Hayashi, Seinosuke Nagayoshi, Kyara Uchida, Kanna Hashimoto, Rento Isobe, Yui Natsukawa, Masami Nagasawa, Hiroshi Abe, Yoshio Harada, Kirin Kiki, Isao Hashizume
Director, writer, editor: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cinematography: Yutaka Yamazaki (colour)
Designer: Keiko Mitsumatsu
Costumes: Miwako Kobayashi
Producers: Kentaro Koike, Hijiri Taguchi (Shirogumi in co-production with Big X)
Japan, 2011, 128 minutes
Screened: DVD, Lisbon, August 5th 2012.