The effect of divorce on offspring has been explored many times in many films, but I Wish from Japan offers fresh and fascinating insights.
Twelve-year-old Koichi has been separated from his younger brother Ryunosuke due to his parents divorce. But he comes to believe in a superstition that if he can wish his family were back together whilst observing two bullet trains passing each other, his wish will come true.
This simple idea is merely the mini-plot hook on which this loose, observational film hangs. Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda is in no mood to hurry things, and at first glance the film will appear to some as inconsequential, much ado about nothing. But I Wish is a film that reflects the uneven ebb and flow of real life and as such gets under the skin. True, much of the running time is taken up with what might be considered mundane, but as one character observes: “There’s room in this world for wasteful things. Imagine if everything had meaning. You’d choke.” Not everything the children do is vital to what little plot there is, but seeing them enjoy a meal, play with fireworks, draw pictures, talk about their hopes and dreams and run away on adventures gives the film its quiet power.
Such slow-paced ultra-realism will not be to the taste of many, but the patient viewer is gradually rewarded with a rich, subtle and touching tapestry that explores childhood innocence and coming to terms with the pain of divorce. In its latter section it reminds one a little of Stand by Me, but it is also very unique in its own right. The films of Yasujiro Ozu are also an obvious influence.
Koreeda doesn’t introduce the audience to any remotely unpleasant people. Children are polite and respectful of their elders. Teachers and parents are kind and understanding – and even amusingly pretend to be hoodwinked by the children at certain points. There are no sadistic bullies or drug problems, just flawed, all too human characters. The whole cast – especially the younger members of it – are terrific.
Although I Wish is low-key and very understated, it is poignant and lingers long in the memory. Very highly recommended for those partial to this kind of cinema. Those after car chases, explosions or three-act arch-plots need not apply.