Capturing childhood on film is tough. Oh, it’s easy to put up something that kind of resembles it and passes for it in the glossy world of cinema, but putting kids on screen that actually act and feel like children? That’s difficult.
Which is what makes I Wish such a remarkable film. It is the story of two brothers, one living with their mum in Kagoshima and the other with their father in Fukuoka. Their parents separated only six months before so both are still trying to figure out their new place and – Koichi, the elder brother, in particular – wishes for their family to come together again. When he hears that the energy created by two bullet trains passing each other grants miracles, he decides to travel to the place it will happen at, and make this wish come true.
The stroke of genius at the heart of I Wish is the casting of real-life brothers Koki and Oshiro Maeda. It gives their relationship a naturality that couldn’t be manufactured. Whether they are face to face or catching up over the phone, you can feel that brotherly chemistry pouring off the two of them and it’s hard not to get caught up in their love for each other.
It’s not only the brothers who create that natural feeling, however. You get the impression that the entire young cast has been allowed by director Hirokazu Koreeda to be kids. They dive from happy to sad at the flip of the coin and just as quickly forget what put them down. The wishes they want to cast range from the ridiculous to the touching and time in their company is fun. Listening to them chatter among themselves brings a smile to your face.
Which does reduces the adult cast to supporting roles; the worrying mother, eccentric grandmother and musical father. Even their grandad, who spends his day smoking and drinking with his friends while trying to think of a way to monetize the newly opened bullet trains, is more a caricature than a rounded character. However, it doesn’t matter. It feels like you see these adults through the children’s eyes and the hints that you receive of their emotions underneath those outer shells are passed by because our protagonists are oblivious to them.
There’s a touch of the Ghibli about I Wish and not just because it comes from Japan. For a while, you get so caught up in the worlds of these kids that you believe that magic and reality coexist. That just maybe their wishes will come true when they scream them into the howling air as the trains fly past. Of course, for all his capturing of childhood Koreeda lives in the real world and it’s no spoiler to say there is no magic come the end of this film, but that doesn’t matter. For the two hours it goes on, you are caught up in the world of these children, and that’s magic enough.
Verdict: Hall of Fame