Film Reviews

With interlocking stories, I Wish illuminates modern Japan

Shot in pieces as fleeting as a pre-teen’s attention span, I Wish reveals a culture deeply fissured by modernity through the eyes and actions of a set of children in two schools several hundred miles apart, linked only by a pair of brothers separated by their parents’ divorce.

Though it starts from the point of view of its two boy leads, Koichi and Ryu, the film’s humanity and psychological depth of field is deep and wide. The setup–the boys come to believe that if they witness the convergence of two high-speed trains coming from opposite directions, their wish for the family to reunite will come true–is as basic a plot as The Parent Trap. Yet director/writer Hirokazu Koreeda delivers something untainted by dramatic conventions. He works like Robert Altman, in quick, overlapping vignettes, combining stories and perspectives with a Chekhovian discipline.

Details of schoolroom and family life are sharp and at times wounding. The slacker father has returned to his beginnings as a rocker, while the mother drinks beer and lets her mother scheme over which man she should chase at her school reunion. Grandfather dreams of creating a cake based on an old recipe that will save the neighborhood from a high-end pastry shop.

Where Koreeda reverses expectations is in how the children take charge of their lives, using the excuse of the rail miracle. That they’re supported by their friends, who end up throwing their own wishes into the ring, shows how Japan’s culture of the group can work in a good way. I Wish goes straight into the messy aftermath of these yearnings without ending up as bleak as 400 Blows or as glib as The Blind Side. Go see it before the inevitable Hollywood remake, which will undoubtedly involve a nuclear bomb and Bruce Willis.