Disappointed by Lincoln and thus eschewing Hollywood ‘ought to see’ currents like Tarantino, Bigelow and even Les Mis(never!) my eye chanced upon I Wish (thanks for the tip Peter Bradshaw).
Originally commissioned by a marketing company to celebrate the launch of the new Kyuushuu bullet trains, the film’s opening was timed to symbolise the regeneration of Japan following the devastating earthquakes and tsunami of 2011.
A volcano in Kagoshima belches volcanic ash over the town, where 11 year-old Koichi lives with his mother and grandparents. She has separated from her wastrel musician husband, who has left with younger brother Ryu. Local excitement is building over the launch of the new bullet train and rumour has it that a miracle will occur if you make a wish at the point where the trains cross. For Koichi, who misses his brother terribly, this seems like a golden opportunity to wish that the volcano would explode and they would be forced to leave Kagoshima and be reunited as a family.
The film’s storyline centres on how the two brothers plot to meet at the interstices to make their wishes come true, but the real joy of the film derives from Koreeda’s ability to assemble a cast of kooky kids and see the world through their eyes, with the grown-ups playing walk-on parts. How he gets these young people to perform so naturally is truly extraordinary. The Maeda brothers, who play the two lead roles, are apparently well-known as a comedy duo in Japan, a kind of young Laurel and Hardy, the one plumply serious and the other the skinny funny guy. Indeed, Koreeda completely re-plotted the film, which initially revolved around a teenage love story, after they auditioned,
From the moment Koichi sets his heart upon this rendez-vous, he and his two mates start making plans in ways that only 11 year-olds can – drafting detailed schedules with painstaking effort, selling their old toys and books, looking for money under vending machines and even giving up swimming lesson subs. At the same time the adorable Ryu who, at nine, never sits let alone stands still – I love the scene of him borrowing a cap and leaping around trying to capture dragonflies in the playground – and has the cheekiest grin ever, has assembled his girl gang to accompany him.
All the children have wishes – to be an actress, to run faster, to draw better, for Dad to give up gambling, to marry the gorgeous teacher, for Marble the dog to come back to life, to be reunited as a family – wishes that are charmingly born out of childhood fears and aspirations and are thus so poignant. That’s not to say the adults don’t have wishes too – the boys’ grandfather’s heart’s desire is to make the best karukacake. In fact it becomes a running gag: ‘Is it sweet?’ ‘It is faintly sweet’: not sweet enough in other words! Poor granddad. The mother’s wish is to see her youngest son; the grandmother’s, bizarrely, to become an expert in Hawaiian dancing, complete with Aloha-style dress and flower behind her ear. The old couple, whom the children chance across on their quest, to see their long-lost daughter again…and so on. It is a universal truth that we all wish for something.
Its almost impossible to describe how touching, engrossing and downright funny this film is. Each scene, shot and choreographed precisely, adds to the vignettes of Japanese life: from the hippy lifestyle of the musician father, to the grandfather’s hanging out with his old drinking chums; family meals and cooking; and school – when teacher asks ‘How many of you don’t have dads’, one of the girls, quick as a flash parries ‘That’s an invasion of privacy and I shall report him’. The cinema also roared at another running gag – the kids’ wish for the renowned local horsemeat sashimi. Perfect timing in this week’s ‘contaminated’ Britain. And the politeness of the young in Japan… now I wish!
True feel-good moves are hard to find – the last one I recall is Untouchable. I Wish, which in Japanese means ‘miracle’, is indeed just that: a mesmerising two hours of pure joy. You wake up the next morning with a glow, laughing, remembering the riches of the night before.