REVIEW: I Wish (2011)

 Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, I Wish is a tiny gem of a film that tells a poignant and touching tale, stirs emotions and leaves a bigger impact than you would expect. Blessed with Koreeda’s sensitive direction and eye for detail, and remarkably spirited performances from the young cast, I Wish is a heartfelt and intimate study of common Japanese life and the coming-of-age of two siblings who live hundreds of kilometers apart with their respective divorced parents, who dream of being re-united. Despite the sugary sweet premise, one can’t help but surrender to the charms.

12-year-old Koichi (Koukii Maeda), who lives with his mother and retired grandparents in Kagoshima, is struggling to accept the separation from his father, a washed up musician, and younger brother, Ryunosuke (Oushiro Maeda), who live in Fukuoka. After hearing a rumour claiming that witnessing the cross over of the new bullet trains that unite their respective towns will result in a miracle occurring, Koichi believes that locating this spot, journeying there, and wishing for the reunion of his parents as the trains cross, will result in his dreams coming true. He discusses this potential miracle with his friends, and Ryu with his own, and after meeting up – with the help of some caring and sympathetic adult figures in their lives – they embark on a life-changing journey that requires them to embrace hope and asks of them courage and maturity.

This is a simple and honest tale about sibling bonds and childhood innocence. The extraordinary performances from the young cast really carry this film, and the fact that the boys playing the brothers are siblings themselves ensured that their on-screen bond felt genuine. Their talents actually resulted in the script, which originally did not feature brothers, to be re-written. Ryu is a cheeky, energetic chatterbox, while Koichi is quieter and more reserved, and the most evidently affected by the separation. Koukii is certainly the standout here, but all of the youngsters are impressive.

With naturalistic dialogue and topical discussion topics, and an observant, fly-on-the-wall approach the boys’ home life, this is an engrossing study of Japanese culture and people. The tale could have been told more economically, its two-hour runtime is a tad too long, but we are given extensive coverage of both brothers’ home and school life and their relationships with their parents, extended family, and school friends are explored in depth.

When the boys agree to meet up they bring some of their friends along, and what makes this story even more special is the fact that all of the children have dreams and aspirations for their lives in the future or are seeking a change. All of them have something to wish for, and are polite and endearing. Like them, we are hoping for a miracle. In many ways, I Wish is somewhat of a miracle.

Accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack, I Wish tells a delightful, honest and poignant study of common Japanese life and deals with broken families, confusing childhood crossroads and the immense power of hope and imagination.

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22

Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda

Written by: Hirokazu Koreeda

Starring: Koki Maeda, Ohshirô Maeda and Ryôga Hayashi

I Wish is in Australian Cinemas now on a limited release.