There's absolutely no doubt after watching Hirokazu Kore-eda's latest film I Wish that his reputation for being among the best two or three directors working in Japan today is well deserved. Relating the story of two brothers, Koichi (Koki Maeda) and Ryunosuke (Ohshirô Maeda), separated by their parents divorce, this is a simply told and greatly observational drama that stands with the director's best work, including Still Walking and his 1998 masterpiece, After Life.
Living with his mother, Koichi quietly mourns the loss of his family life. Early in the film, Kore-eda allows us to see how the divorce has impacted his social life at school, where he's made to feel ashamed when a teacher doles out homework based around the occupations of each student's father. Koichi takes refuge in fantasy and denial and, when news of a new bullet train hits town, he (naturally?) theorizes that the exchange in energy created by the simultaneous passing of old and new trains will grant a wish to anyone who witnesses it.
In addition to the trains, Kore-eda cleverly plays with the dynamic between the old and the new in several places in the film. Koichi repeatedly holds up his current home life against how things were in the past. And his grandfather expresses their distaste for contemporary Japanese sweets by trying to replicate and mass produce a traditional recipe from his youth. Nostalgia is a hallmark in many of Kore-eda's films and, like in his prior work, it's never overemphasized here as much as it flows out of the material with a gentle honesty that's perfectly matched with the material at hand.
Best of all, this is a movie that excels at letting the child actors shed the appearance of performance; it allows these kids to be kids. No doubt, a film involving children dealing with divorce needs to have some gravity, but, thankfully, I Wish doesn't force the type of emotive trauma that's become almost de rigueur in contemporary coming of age cinema. This is a very good film that wisely applies a light and fanciful touch in lieu of the dark theatrics favored by others. And what a refreshing choice that is.
I Wish begins its run at Living Room Theaters on Friday, June 29nd. More info available here.
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