Friday, June 29, 2012


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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There was a point nearly halfway through Pink Ribbons, Inc. where I began to actively wonder what exactly was the thesis of the documentary I was viewing.  It was clear that director Léa Pool was passionately trying to work towards revealing the "pinkwashing" that's become nearly unquestioned in the corporate sponsorship of public campaigns promoting breast cancer awareness and research.  And yet, the actual point of the film, that there's an inherent hypocrisy built into the cynical practice of corporations, especially those selling products containing carcinogens to women, marketing their products using lil' pink breast cancer awareness ribbons, doesn't end up being very well articulated until far too late in the film for its impact to be fully appreciated.

It's also difficult to shake the feeling that the film is treating women who buy into the themed products and events like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in a condescending manner.  Time and again, it cuts from dark proclamations from the film's cadre of experts about the uselessness of the current awareness culture (pink yogurt lids, juice bottles, etc.) to supremely light and silly images of women (oh, my god, actually having fun and bonding while) participating in that culture. 

It's not as if the points being made by Pool's interviewees aren't valid.  Yes, breast cancer campaigns were once linked to activism that demanded actual results in medical advancement, rather than the vague banner of "awareness" that most efforts rest under today.  And it's true that there's something rotten in Denmark when Ford can slap a pink emblem on the side of a car, rake it in, and only contribute a miniscule amount of the profits to breast cancer research.  Sadly, there's a lack of focus in the manner that these observations are organized, contributing an overall slackness to the piece that makes it feel overly long and tangential at times.

Fortunately, it's not all gray skies, as there are many things that the film does gets right.  In particular, there's a wonderfully sharp and charismatic interview with breast cancer activist Barbara Brenner woven throughout that offers up many of the most clear-eyed moments of insight in the film.  Brenner quickly becomes the film's voice of reason.  Pool also brings her cameras to a gathering of women living with stage four cancer.  Both their thoughts on the commercialization of their illness and their mere presence in the film force the viewer to grapple with what is truly at stake.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. begins its run at Cinema 21 on Friday, June 29th.  More info available here.

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