May 9, 2012


by Vadim Rizov

I Wish

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda's last film to receive American distribution, 2008's Still Walking, ended with a long shot of trains passing, "a moment whose metaphoric intent is clear," wrote Trevor Johnston. "Those trains have people on them with the same problems as the rest of us." Japanese National Railways' high-speed bullet trains serve a more optimistic function in I Wish, as well as providing some of its financing. Shane Meadows made use of Eurostar's funding for the delightful Somers Town, and Kore-eda is similarly adept in making sure he isn't compromised by his financiers.

I Wish

In Kore-eda's best known film, After Life, the newly dead have seven days to choose their favorite memory, which is filmed so that they can spend eternity with these moments. Inevitably, everyone ends up choosing ah-that-was-the-moment-of-my-life scenes of passing incidental pleasures: a sunny trolley ride, a quiet afternoon sitting on a park bench. By emphasizing the effort of recreating such a moment in long near-documentary sequences of the difficulty of film production, Kore-eda turned the process into something to be savored in and of itself, rather than hectoring us. Not so much in Still Walking, whose very title invites people to jump up and down with joy at not being paralyzed, and which came dangerously close to that-floating-plastic-bag-sure-is-beautiful smugness. Here, despite a sticky-sweet score from the band Quruli, Kore-eda lets moments unfold without forcing a message on each one.

Older sibling Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives with mom in Kagoshima, cleaning the volcanic ash from nearby mount Sakurajima that settles daily in his room before going to school. Younger Ryonuosuke (Oshiro Maeda) lives with dad in Fukuoka, high-fiving his way through the morning playground, belting out "OHAYO" ("good morning") like a miniature Japanese Seann William Scott. Their visible maturity levels are deceptive: Koichi's the one harboring unrealistic plots of bringing their divorced parents back together, while Ryonusuke revels in his new home.

I Wish

Koichi and Ryonosuke take after their custodial parents: Koichi's a worrier, Ryonosuke a feckless wastrel in embryo (so says mom). Koichi's fixation on making sure he's raised by a nuclear family denies the obvious reality that his parents' antithetical goals and levels of responsibility were a very good reason for splitting up. In Ryonosuke's flashbacks, his parents are always at alarming dinnertime odds, and he vows to never put up with that again. But Koichi is determined to force reconciliation. After hearing that the first two passing trains on the new line will make wishes come true for anyone who sees this moment, he plans an expedition to be there.

When the brotherly road trip finds a last-second spot to witness the locomotive miracle, Koichi's suddenly overtaken with flashbacks to "small moments" from the last two hours: a teacher's grip upon his shoulders, a student making a baseball diamond in the dust with his feet. This montage condenses After Life's message into a brisk 30 seconds, the only bold gesture in an otherwise tempered, gentle work that's content to bask in the presence of its uniformly endearing characters. Amiable father Kenji (Jo Odagiri) is given the task of delivering Kore-eda's thesis by way of a self-defense: "There's room in the world for waste. Imagine if everything had meaning. You'd choke." I Wish practices what it preaches.

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Posted by ahillis at May 9, 2012 11:17 AM