I don’t know if Koreeda Hirozaku has siblings, but fierce sibling bonds form a leitmotif of his movies, especially “Nobody Knows” and “I Wish” (Kaseki, 2011). The children at the center of these movies are impractical, but their wishes to be together are very fervent.
In “I Wish,” 12-year-old Koichi (Maeda Koki) lives with his mother (Ohtsuka Nene), a cashier in a supermarket, and her parents (Hashizume Isao, Kiki Kirin) in the town of Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip (Osumi peninsula) of the southern island of Kyushu in the shadow of the active volcano Sakurajima. Koichi’s younger brother Ryu (real-life brother Maeda Ohshirô) lives with their father (Jô Odagiri), a guitarist in an unsuccessfulrock band, 137 miles (220km) away in Fukuoka, on the northern shore of the island. Koichi is obsessed with reuniting the family.
Add a dollop of magical thinking. Koichi has heard that if someone is at the place where the new bullet train going north and the one going south pass, a wish can be granted. His wish is not the straightforward one of a permanent reuniting. Rater it is that Sakurajima will have a major explosion, forcing Kagoshima to be evacuated.
With judicious cellphone use, Koichi arranges for Ryu to meet him at the spot where the trains will whizz past each other. Each brings friends along.
Quruli’s soundtrack supports what is going on in the movie rather than calling attention to itself. The pace is leisurely (the running time is 128 minutes), but not unpleasantly slow. There are piqant sideplots and eccentric characters, not least the grandfather trying to bring traditional karuna cake back to widespread favor and taking hula lessons.
Though not so bittersweet at “Nobody Knows,” “I Wish” seems to me not dispiriting without being saccharine. That is, it is somewhat melancholy about the aspirations of the children (not just the brothers) and the failures of the adults. Koreeda’s usual cinematographer Yamazaki Yutaka delivers attractive, sometimes poignant images.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray