Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Ryu and Koichi have the same mother and father, but go to separate schools in separate towns, eating and sleeping in separate houses... with newly separated parents. A glimmer of hope for the older Koichi arrives with the announcement of a new high-speed shinkansen (bullet train) connecting the brothers' cities. He, dragging a crew of classmates in as well, becomes obsessed with the idea that seeing the two trains pass each other will enable him, eyes jammed shut, to wish for the family's reunion in a moment of synchronicity too perfect for the fates to deny, or thereabouts. (Living in southern Kagoshima under constant threat of a city-levelling volcano eruption, Koichi even wishes for such a disaster, if only to force the parents back together.) The script, the plot, the dialogue—it was all reworked after director Hirokazu Kore-eda cast real-life brothers Koki and Ohshirô Maeda, breathing untold intimacy into the movie's highs and lows.
The parents, teachers and grandchildren in the ambling, unsentimental I Wish don't change much in its two hours. They appear less as cogs in the usual infernal apparatus of what film scholar Elizabeth Alsop calls "hugging, learning and growing"—you know, the stuff that wins most foreign pictures their American viewers in the first place—and more as types, stuck in toxic puddles of regret and self-delusion. As kids, how many of us didn't interpret the grownups mysteriously hovering around as cardboard cutouts stuck in a self-repeating schtick, only to see them slowly morph into more nuanced characters as years passed by? Between these busted role models and the all-too-authentic children, I Wish's dramatic landscape is initially unsatisfying—but that's less a symptom of Kore-eda's lack of humanism than of his refusal to fudge the film's emotional perspective.
Not unlike Bill Watterson or Ursula Nordstrom, the director trusts his audience to see the world through innocent eyes, his images arranged as narcotically clear standalone impressions and first-person vistas, often shot quite low to the ground. Kore-eda's 1998 masterpiece After Life takes place in a limbo-office where the deceased get to choose one peak moment from their lives, then dutifully researched/performed/filmed/archived by office staff—before committing themselves to eternity. Sounds loony, but it might be his philosophy of cinema: scarce on big payoffs, I Wish trades rather in bite-sized moods and detours, hopes and disappointments, memories unpacked and revisited with that bittersweet ambiguity you can usually escape in movies but always expect from life.
Opens May 11