Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda. Starring Koki Maeda, Oshiro Maeda, Kirin Kiki, Joe Odagiri Club, IFI, Dublin, 127 mins
It’s the kind of urban myth that could only have come from a happy, idealised Japanese schoolyard: when the bullet train line opens, the energy surge that results from the passing northbound and southbound trains will be magical enough to grant wishes to all who witness the event.
It’s an appealing notion for 12-year-old Koichi, who recently relocated to Kagoshima, a city shrouded in volcanic ash. Here he enjoys time with his mother, his grandparents and his new school chums, but that doesn’t prevent him from pining for his little brother Ryu, who has stayed with their slacker musician dad in Fukuoka, almost 200 kilometres away. Might the passing trains miraculously allow for a family reconciliation?
Koichi and Ryu soon recruit others into respective expeditions toward the new train line. Each of their would-be travelling companions has their own wish: one kid wants to marry the school librarian; one wants to be a baseball star; another dreams of being an actress in Tokyo. Together they merge into an adorable gang that owes as much to Ozu’s Good Morning as it does The Goonies.
Taking a cue from Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro, I Wish refuses to place its central siblings in jeopardy or to attach any major plot developments to its defining journey. This is a whimsical, summery, innocent picture, untroubled by any real understanding of larger, grown-up problems.
The results are not as memorable as After Life, Hirokazu’s brilliant 1998 depiction of a very pleasing purgatory. The tone can err on the sugary side of cutesy-pie. But the interactions between real-life brothers Koki and Oshiro Maeda work to light up the screen every time.
Even from under that blanket of ash, Japan has never looked sunnier or sweeter.