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I Wish

Miracle / 奇跡 | Kiseki 2011 | 128 min | PG | 1.85:1

I Wish


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Theatrical release date

 11 May, 2012
 08 February, 2013

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I Wish


I Wish Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 17, 2012

“I Wish” is a sweet, gentle picture from Japan, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, who specializes in softly wistful features of visual beauty. Although it runs for longer than it should, “I Wish” finds a charming position of curiosity and longing that helps to extend its interests to the audience, creating interesting characters facing adversity, who look to a bit of magic to help ease the discomfort in their lives. It’s also a movie about children told from a child’s perspective, granting the film a specialized concentration of adolescent energy that provides a unique thumbprint to an otherwise leisurely exploration of hope and travel.

As a young boy living with his grandparents and mother in a small town near a volcanic mountain, Koichi (Koki Maeda) longs for a day when his family, torn apart by divorce, can be reunited as one. Close with younger brother Ryu (Ohshiro Madea), Koichi maintains contact through the phone, keeping in touch with his beloved sibling as their lives slowly drift apart. Overhearing a bit of whimsy at school that suggests wishes may be granted when two new bullet trains cross paths deep in the country, Koichi decides to give the rumor a shot, teaming up with a few friends to prepare a pilgrimage to the dream spot. Encouraging Ryu to do the same, the boys hatch plans to ditch school and meet up near the passing trains, requiring a few juvenile skills of deception and displays of trust from those in charge of supervising the children to carry out the mission.

A film of keen observation, “I Wish” doesn’t push on the senses. Instead, the production aims to study the characters distantly as they process their individual living situations, picking up the distress and isolation of these individuals as they carry out their daily tasks. The focus is extended to the friends of Koichi and Ryu, creating a community atmosphere of pint-sized moxie, with the entire gang clinging to dreams of a better life, including a young girl aspiring to be an actress, while another hangs on the false hope that the train-crossing wish will somehow reanimate her late pet, a dog she keeps in her backpack during the journey. The first half of the picture is devoted to establishing not only the characters, but the feel for their home and school life, with Hirokazu building “I Wish” brick by brick, getting his viewers used to the slower pace and atmospheric focus, using the volcanic aspects of the town (with its blowing ash) to reinforce Koichi’s initial misery with his living arrangement.

The second half of the movie picks up speed as the kids work out the logistics of their train visit, figuring out how to pay for their travel needs while planning their schemes to get out of school. Coming across friendly adults who easily see through their efforts, yet still support such heartfelt ambition, the teams are soon off on their adventure, armed with high spirits and contemplative thoughts, ruminating about their choice of wish as the magic moment draws near. As with any good drama, not everything goes to plan once the children arrive at their destination, yet Hirokazu establishes only mild setbacks, interested in psychological barriers, not melodramatic ones.

Scored with pop enthusiasm and performed naturally by a cast of newcomers, “I Wish” never steps into saccharine behavior, remaining stable as a human drama of unusual magical thinking. Hirokazu keeps the community engaging and the emotions complex, dealing with the pains of divorce in a straightforward manner, skillfully exposing emotional rawness without indulging the potential for histrionics. “I Wish” is a smartly crafted, tenderly executed picture. Despite its youthful perspective on adult concerns, the feature generates a few profound moments of basic need in the midst of an atypical men-on-a-mission film.

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