In the Japanese-language film I Wish, two brothers are coping as best they can with their parents’ separation and impending divorce.
Twelve-year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda) is pensive and anxious, not cripplingly so, but enough for him to worry — not without some justification — why no one in his town seems alarmed about living in the shadow of an active volcano.
His younger brother, Ryunosuke (Ohshirô Maeda), is nearly his polar opposite: resolutely cheerful, armed with a smile so wide and easy you halfway wonder if it’s borne from happiness or idiocy.
I Wish, which opens Friday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, is a coming-of-age story that doesn’t condescend to its youthful protagonists or indulge in much easy sentimentality. Its characters evolve slowly and believably. Writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda deserves credit for making a film that seems to care about and understand the children at its center.
Portrayed by real-life brothers, Koichi and Ryunosuke have been pulled apart by their parents. Koichi lives with their mother (Nene Ohtsuka) and grandparents (Isao Hashizume and Kirin Kiki) in Kagoshima, while Ryu is off with their dad (Jô Odagiri), an aspiring rock musician, in the northern city of Hakata. They talk often on the telephone, but Koichi senses that his beloved kid brother is drifting away.
Kore-eda eschews plot in favor of a leisurely pace and loose structure that lets situations reveal character. The narrative eventually coalesces when Koichi learns that a new bullet train is going to be built in a nearby city. He hears that wishes can come true if you shout them at the point where two bullet trains pass one another. That’s all it takes for the boy, desperate to see his family reunite, plot a day trip to see that train work a miracle.
That doesn’t sound like the makings of riveting filmmaking, but audiences who give themselves over to this modest and charming film will be rewarded.
It is tempting to see I Wish as something of a Japanese version of Moonrise Kingdom, the new Wes Anderson movie currently in theaters and, to my thinking, the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
Don’t misunderstand: Kore-eda, whose past efforts include the affecting Still Walking and Nobody Knows, doesn’t have Anderson’s singular vision, but the directors do share a knack for illustrating the chasm between childhood and the ineffectual self-absorption of adults.
At one point in I Wish, one of the grown-ups asks rhetorically, “Do kids today feel anything about anything?” By then it’s clear, however, that the children in Kore-eda’s universe don’t lack for feeling the weight of the world.
If Moonrise Kindgom is the fairy tale, I Wish offers an alternative bound by gravity — but one that still soars.