“I Wish” is a gentle, funny, poignant, sensitive, insightful and optimistic story about two little brothers reaching for miracle. Although I missed the chance to watch it when it was released at South Korean theaters around the end of the last year, I have kept hearing from others about how good it is, and now I know how wonderful it is, and I cannot help but smile whenever I think about these little brothers in the film who are wise as well as innocent like some kids we come across in our daily life.
They are Koichi and Ryunoske, played by Koki Maeda and Ohshirô Maeda. The chemistry between these two kids, who are actually brothers, is infectious to say the least. They are lively and joyous, and they never run out of their exuberant energy which always fills the space surrounding them. They are separated during the first half of the story, but you can feel how inseparable they are from each other when you see them having a conversation through their cellular phones.
They have not met each other for the last six months since their parents divorced. Koichi moved with his mother to her hometown Kagoshima. He and his mother now live in her parents’ house, and he has been accustomed to his new home except an active volcano near the city(it’s Mt. Sakurajima, by the way). He thinks that it is strange to live near the volcano which frequently sprays ashes on the city during its constant eruptions, but the people of Kagoshima have actually lived like that with the possibility of disaster right next to them. This looks dangerous to you, but it may not look dangerous to South Korean audiences; after all, South Korea has the world’s second largest metropolitan area right below one of the most lunatic and dangerous countries in the world.
Ryunoske, usually called Ryu in short, moved with his father to Fukuoka. His father still pursuits his dream through his independent rock band, and he is more childish than his young son, but he is not a bad dad and they have been living together pretty well. Ryunoske sometimes have a fun time with his dad’s friends, and, like his brother, he has friends to play with at his school, and they usually spend their free time at the town swimming pool. I was not so interested in physical education class when I was in elementary school, but I liked swimming(and I still do), and Ryunoske and his friends reminded me that the swimming pool at my neighbourhood was one of the best memories of summer days during my childhood.
Koichi and Ryunoske are not unhappy about their respective changed lives, and they are constantly in contact with each other thanks to the advance of modern communication technology, but they wish to be together again with their parents. On one day, they get one preposterous idea for making their wish come true. The new high-speed train line will soon be opened between Kagoshima and Fukuoka, and they and their friends believe some sort of energy field is generated when the trains pass each other at the speed of 250-km. They believe the miracle will happen as they want if they say their wishes loud and clear to the trains at that moment,
You will find their belief quite silly, but these innocent kids are very serious about it, and it is warmly funny to watch how they prepare for their mission. They are naive, but they are also smart. They find the ways to finance their mission. They also find the exact point where the two trains will meet each other. They also plan how to skip the school for their journey. How their plan is executed is another warm funny moment in the film.
While calmly observing these kids with affection, the movie also looks around the adults near them. They are nice people; Grandpa helps Koichi’s plan to skip the school, and the teachers turn out to be a lot more understanding than we thought at first. There is also a touching sequence when the kids unintentionally come into the house of an old couple. The kids get a place to sleep through deception, but an old couple is happy to have their house filled again with children. Whether they really believe one of the kids is their granddaughter does not matter because what happens between this couple and the kids is something they will never forget.
I came to know about the director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda through “After Life”(1998). I did not expect much about that movie, but I was quickly absorbed into its story about the dead people who are about to move to the next world with one single precious memory in their previous lives. “Nobody Knows”(2004) was a sad story about four children who have to take care of themselves when their mother virtually abandons them. “Still Walking”(2008), a humane family drama about the increasing distance between parents and children, made me think about what I had observed from the relationship between my grandmother and my father for 20 years.
Kore-eda has been regarded as the successor to Yasujirō Ozu, and the influences from Ozu’s films are clearly shown again in this movie. Reminiscent of Ozu’s ‘dadami shot’, the camera is usually static while observant of its characters and their interactions. I particularly remember one scene between Ryunosuke’s friend, who wants to go to Tokyo to be an actress, and her mother, who once aspired to be a successful actress in the past. Their conversation about her aspiration is quiet, but what they feel is palpable. The mother understands her daughter’s wish, but she sincerely doubts whether her daughter really has a will to pursuit her career, and her daughter understands that.
“I Wish” was actually intended as a promotional film for the high-speed train line shown in the movie, but, thanks to Kore-eada’s thoughtful and sensitive direction, you will never realize that while watching it. This is an absorbing human drama filled with genuine optimism, and the Maeda brothers and other child performers give the natural performances as good as the ones in François Truffaut’s great film “Small Change”(1976). It also should be mentioned that the adult supporting actors are very good as the characters filled with each own life; I especially like the subtle touches in the relationship between Koichi and his grandpa, who considers selling his rice bean cake again and then tries to make it while his grandson watches him.
The kids finally arrive at their destination, and, this is not a spoiler at all, they will eventually see the trains passing each other. This sounds indeed predictable, but what they learn from this moment and their journey in the end is more moving that you expect. They grow up a little, but they are still running with that unstoppable energy of theirs. Every day in our life is miracle – and they do know now.