I Wish (2011)
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The two brothers are forced to deal with the consequences of their parents' choices, ones they have had no part in making. Their belief, to varying degrees, in the power of 'faith' (believing that wishes can come true) then leads them to have to face the consequences of their own choices. Given their youthful immaturity, there is real poignancy in witnessing their confrontation with some harsh realities.
The movie features brilliant performances from the young actors and an excellent supporting cast of adults. There is also gorgeous and evocative cinematography, scenes of the Japanese countryside and its urban impositions, not least the Bullet line itself elevated on its concrete trackbed.
It takes some time, too long perhaps, for the story to gain momentum. But once the youngsters embark on their journey to meet the trains, the story moves at a brisker, more engaging pace. The climax (yes there is a climax, contrary to the view of another reviewer) brings moments of intense beauty and sharp sadness, regret for the loss of childish innocence of as well as optimism in the hope for a better future.
So this is a slow-burner, but persistence brings rewards. Recommended.
(Viewed at The Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK 21.02.13)
Child prodigy stand up comic team Maeda-Maeda performs the role of Kouichi, and Ryunosuke. Director Hirokazu Koreeda originally had a different plot for the story, where a girl living in Fukuoka, goes to see the two trains crossing each other on the track, meets a boy from Hakata and love story ensues. But upon seeing Maeda-Maeda at the audition, he changed the story to that which involves the two brothers. The project was a promotional campaign for the opening of the Kagoshima route of Japan Railways bullet train line. They brought the project to director Koreeda, and he accepted.
Very common story that involves nothing but the life of few children, but is made extraordinary by the direction of Koreeda, and the performance of Maeda brothers. Observation of people in common life, and attention to detail is extraordinary, and can only come from the eyes of a genius. I can see why Koreeda is regarded so highly as a director. I'd say only few directors can take a theme like this, and create a truly intriguing movie like this one.
In reality it is virtually impossible to pinpoint where the two trains will meet on the track, so the story is purely fictional.
It may be difficult to see all the inner workings of this movie at a first glance, but it is worth the time to sit in and really enjoy the performance.
"Kiseki" is a simple and sensitive tale of loss of innocence of children that need to face reality instead of immature and naive dreams. The come of age of Koichi that accepts the divorce of his parents and of Megumi (Kyara Uchida) that decides to move to Tokyo to become an actress and Makoto that decides to bury his dog are clearly are depicted in the story. Ryunosuke is still a child and believes that his wish is the responsible for the chance his father and his friends will have in their career of musicians.
The direction of Hirokazu Koreeda and the performances are top-notch and the movie shows landscapes of the countryside of Japan that are unusual in Japanese features. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "O Que Eu Mais Desejo" ("What I Desire the Most")
The brothers (brothers in real life as well) are very different in personality but both seem happy and well adjusted in spite of the difficult circumstances of their life. Ryu is fun loving and his toothless smile will warm your heart. Koichi is more serious and thoughtful but very engaging. He becomes elated when he hears that a bullet train is coming that will connect his city to his brother's. Even more exciting are the rumors that are floating around that when two trains pass each other in opposite directions, your wishes will come true out of the energy the trains create. Koichi's wish is for the nearby volcano to explode so that his family will have to move, and he will be reunited with his brother.
The plan is to meet his brother half-way and do some serious wishing. The fun starts when they have to find creative ways to raise the money. There's also the pesky part about Koichi and his two friends leaving school in the middle of the day. For this he recruits his grandfather to provide an excuse to the school authorities and includes the school librarian who once had a similar experience of wanting to escape from school to attend a concert.
The group of friends of both brothers adds a lot to the film as well. Tasuku (Ryoga Hayashi) wants to marry his teacher, a bit of magic realism there. Makoto (Seinosuke Nagayoshi) wants his dog to come back to life. Megumi (Kyara Uchida), much to her mother's indifference, wants very much to go to Tokyo and become an actress. Kanna (Kanna Hashimoto) wants to be a better painter, and Rento (Rento Isobe) wants to be a faster runner. While the focus of the film are the wishes of the group of children and their trip to the trains' midpoint, the film also provides a rounded portrait of all of its characters without syrup or other sweeteners, though it certainly views children through a somewhat rose-colored lens.
I Wish is a charming and lighthearted film, though its over two hour's length can makes the goings-on a bit tedious. Although the children arrive at the point of realizing that accepting what is can produce happiness, the growth in reaching that point is what the film is about. Ultimately, however, though hoping, wishing, and yearning are all part of childhood, some adults come to realize that, a step beyond wishing and hoping and praying for something to happen, is our ability to create, to make things happen. Unfortunately, most people have not gotten past the hoping stage.
One hour into this 2-hour movie I had to shut it off. Since I didn't watch the whole thing I can't fairly rate it, but I wanted to share my (unpleasant) experience because I wish someone had warned me the same way. This was the first time in my life I've ever shut off a movie from sheer boredom. No, boredom isn't the word. It was more a feeling of total disconnection. The scenes, perhaps attempting to recreate the disconnected, ADD-type thought process of little kids, were so unrelated and random that I became irritated.
Like my title suggests, if you want to see a truly magical film about youth, innocence and the not-so-innocent, hunt down a film called "Kikujiro" (1999). More about that later. First let's talk about "I Wish".
Here is a breakdown of the first hour. Each scene lasts 2-5 minutes. At any time if you become bored, skip to the last paragraph of my review.
Scene 1) a boy grabs a washcloth and cleans his desk. Scene 2) The boy's mother is talking about meaningless things while the grandmother makes random gestures in the air, saying "I'm the wind. I'm a ghost. Etc..." Scene 3) The boys walk to school and complain about the hill. Scene 4) Kids are scolded by a teacher for not doing their homework properly. Scene 5) Kids are in the hall complaining about the teacher. Scene 6) Back to the mother and grandparents talking about vegetable gardens. Scene 7) Jump to some other kids at a swimming pool. Scene 8) The boy stares blankly at his homework assignment. Scene 9) A bunch of old men talk about baking a cake for the festival. Scene 10) The boys are back in school ogling the librarian's legs. Scene 11) The boy's father wakes up, strums a guitar and goes back to sleep. Scene 12) The kids gather and talk about acting.
While I hesitate to call the movie "bad" because I didn't watch it all the way through, I can definitely conclude that the first hour didn't provide enough substance to convince me to keep watching. And trust me, I like slow movies (2001, Werckmeister Harmonies, Hitchcock's Rope). Instead of watching "I Wish", I HIGHLY recommend a Japanese film called "Kikujiro" which this movie seemed to be imitating. However, even though it is slow paced, "Kikujiro" wastes no scenes. They all relate to each other, build upon each other and eventually lead you to a powerful message by the time the film ends. The music in "Kikujiro" (composed by the Japanese master Joe Hisaishi) is also leagues above the mediocre soundtrack of "I Wish", another turnoff. Maybe one day I'll go back & finish the last hour of this film and revise this review if I feel differently. But all the same, I'd rather spend my time watching something else.
What was your dream when you were small? To be a dancer? To be an actor? To marry your teacher? To run faster? To reunite with your family after your parents' separation?
For 12-year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda), his dream was for the volcano in Kagoshima to explode so he could go back to Osaka with his mom and live with his dad and younger brother Ryunosuke (Oshirou Maeda).
Koichi accidentally heard that miracles happened when the first north and south bound bulletin trains passed each other in Kyushu. Elated, he called his younger brother in Osaka to plan for this secret rendezvous.
What is appealing of the film is that it is totally carried by the children cast. Even grandpa, mama, teachers and strangers on the road were on their side everyone was kind and everyone had their own dream. Grandpa was determined to try making his exclusive desert karukan. Mama missed his younger son but was too proud to get back with her husband. The teachers were all so kind to go along with the kids' kind lies.
What I admire is how autonomous the children were in this movie. Not only did they have a dream, but they also actually developed a plan to realize their dream: Koichi and his friends looked for changes under the vending machines. When they found out it was not enough, they sold their toys and comic books and even gave up their swimming tuition. Then they made a detailed itinerary complete with train schedule and maps. The important point was their parents gave them a lot of freedom to do what they want.
It did not come to my mind that the two brothers are real brothers behind the screen until I saw their old pictures in the later part of the movie. No wonder there were such strong resonance between them. All the characters were lovable in the film, even if they lie, even if they were too trusty - because they all have dreams and they believe in them.
The message is also very positive: when there is dream, there will be miracles and things will fall into places. Even if miracles did not happen, we would be glad that we tried.
A feel-good movie at the highest level. And it is exactly what Japan needs to rebuild itself from the ruins after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
"I Wish", Japanese title "Kiseki (Miracle)", is sort of a road movie about a bunch of kids going to see the new Kyuushuu Bullet Trains crossing. Majority of the film follows the lives of the two brothers: One in Kagoshima; the other in Fukuoka. They reunite after their parents broke up 6 months ago. One day, the older brother Kouki hears the urban legend that witnesses of the new bullet trains crossing will have their wishes granted, much like seeing shooting stars. The brothers and their friends begin collecting money for the trip to have their wishes granted.
I did like how the bullet trains connecting to the Southwestern Japan marks a new era in the region. Perhaps that is the reason kids, the next generation, were the main focus of the story. It was also interesting that Tower of the Sun, the symbol of Osaka Expo '70, was torn down in Kouki's dream to further signify coming of a new era.
However, over three-quarters of the film was about getting ready for the trip, and the ending seemed very rushed despite the movie spending so much time with the plot getting nowhere. While "process is more important than result" is a common theme in Japanese films and certainly present in this film, the actual process (the trip to the destination) was cut too short as a series of convenient events, and the preparation stage was simply introduction of each kids and their problems in the most obvious ways imaginable. Furthermore, "I Wish" completely fails to build up for the climax (didn't have a climax?), making it an extremely bland movie... and this is NOT because it's one of those subtlety Japanese film in any way. "Koko ni Irukoto" (2001) is a subtle film, "Tennen Kokekko" (2007) is a subtle film, yet both of them (and many other Japanese films of its type) managed to be far more heartwarming than this generic road movie.
The leading actors, dubbed "MaedaMaeda" by the marketing team for being real brothers with the last name "Maeda" (also happens to be homophone with "forward" in Japanese), delivered very underwhelming performances. In fact, none of the child actors' acting can be truly called "acting". While this kind of performance works for the documentary style of Koreeda, it is a total disaster for a movie with such tightly written script, also making it feel extremely uneven with the supporting adult actors.
"I Wish" has THE biggest waste of acting talent I have ever seen. Odagiri Joe had about 10-minute screen time. Abe Hiroshi, Nagasawa Masami, and Natsukawa Yui... all of whom capable of leading in their own films, in addition to many veteran supporting actors, were reduced to cameo-like 3-minute appearances in this movie. Nagasawa Masami in particular was not even recognizable. With exception of Ootsuka Nene, none of the cast had to be the big-names since they had nothing to work with. They were there solely for marketing purposes.
Unlike Miike Takashi who also sold out to the mainstream in last year's TIFF participant "13 Assassins" (2010), Koreeda Hirokazu failed to create something extraordinary for the general audience and failed to draw out the best out of his talented cast. This film had nothing that hundreds of other Japanese directors couldn't have made.
"I Wish" is an average quality Japanese film made to glorify the new Kyuushuu Bullet Train and PR for the local businesses. Like in the movie, miracle didn't happen here.
The usual Kore-eda themes of fractured families and kids finding magic in a flawed universe are present, but by the director's own standards this is a much lighter, almost sugar-coated engagement with those themes. There is the signature naturalistic, engrossing performances from the child actors, with Ohshirô as Ryunosuke especially impressive in his conflicted, caring attempts to be re-united with his brother. Koki is more of a one-note outing, required to be relentlessly upbeat, which he does superbly. The scene where he moves his mother to tears on the phone plays on this astutely. Forcing two young brothers to live apart for their own selfish ends could be represented in darker tones, even as abuse, but Kore-eda keeps it all light and humorous, through the simple trope of having the children be sensible and down-to-earth, and the adults, especially the bickering parents, petty and immature. The sub-plots, involving sponge cake and acting ambitions, are so removed from the main story strand that they give the film an episodic, slightly meandering feel when they pop up. Ultimately they are distracting, making the story busier than it needs to be. They also stretch the running time to over two hours. While some will delight in spending time with such engaging children, the film felt flabby to me after the 90-minute mark. The ending, while admirably avoiding sentimentality, takes too long to come around.
Such is Kore-eda's stature that a host of A-listers pack the minor roles giving them more gravitas than normal. Jô Odagiri as the musician father, Kirin Kiki as the grandmother, and Hiroshi Abe as a disciplinarian teacher ply their day-shifts admirably.
There is a lot to enjoy in I Wish, but lacking the damning social critique of Nobody Knows, and the acerbic scalpel on family life of Still Walking, this is Kore-eda choosing to crowd please rather than stretch himself.
The suburban tale of a troubled family told with a touch of fantasy and adventure draws obvious parallels with Spielberg, and it is more than worthy of the comparison. Director Hirokazu Koreeda elicits two incredibly natural performances from the boys (real life brothers) and indeed all of the young cast in the scenes where they're hanging out he has seemingly turned the camera on some local school friends, their relationships seem so genuine. Koichi and Ryu's story is interspersed with those of their friends and family, all of whom have their own struggles and aspirations. Be it their grandfather's desire to bake a successful sponge cake, or Koichi's friend's dream of marrying the beautiful school librarian, every character no matter how minor is portrayed as a real person with their own hopes and fears. As a result it is constantly engrossing, establishing an affinity with everyone on screen and also allowing some fantastically warm funny moments to emerge from the characters themselves. Despite its concentration on character over narrative, and its general unpredictability, the film still has a mainstream tone and is more than capable of cultivating a wide, varied audience.
A quiet natural film that avoids obvious melodrama and sentimentality, it retains a thoughtful depth about what it is to dream and hope for that which is just out of reach. As is often the case with the most affecting cinema its power lies in what the viewer brings to it from their own lives, and how much they are willing to invest in the film. With no obvious moral or message, it has the potential to be interpreted in many ways. A philosophical yet thoroughly accessible film that effortlessly gets under the skin.