This is a short review, as again I’ve let myself get behind in my write-ups at this busy time of year…
I think it’s clear at this point that Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda likes to make films about kids and their families, like a rather more sensitive rendering of the themes of earlier Steven Spielberg movies. His Like Father, Like Son was one of my favourite films at this year’s London Film Festival, and this previous film (only released in UK cinemas earlier this year) is also a delight. Both films feature families split apart — in this case by divorce — but I Wish takes the children as its protagonists, lending it also a sense of real child-like wonder.
It takes its time to get going though. The title, and the ostensible heart of the film, come with the idea — suggested off-handedly by a child at school early on — that if you witness the moment when two bullet trains pass one another, whatever you wish for will come true. As it happens, the older of the two children in the film longs most for their parents to get back together. However, the quest that this promise — and the news that the bullet train line is being extended to where he lives — suggests doesn’t really start until after a full half of the film’s two-hour running time has elapsed. Up until that point, what Koreeda is content to sketch out is a portrait of the lives of these two children, one living with their mother in a town in the shadow of an active volcano, the other with their father, whose dream of rock stardom ensures he lives a messy and indolent life (though in a rather larger city). The two communicate regularly by phone, but even here there’s the resigned hint that the younger child knows deep-down that the older sibling’s dream of the family getting back together is a foolish hope.
This isn’t then magical realism, and though there are playful hints towards this, the first half of the film ensures we know that this tale is very much grounded in something more akin to social realism. But even within these constraints, Koreeda has found something touching without being sentimental, and heart-warming without being cloying. I can’t imagine a better film founded on such a fragile premise. It’s a corrective to the kind of overblown sap you’d get in an equivalent Hollywood production, and for that I welcome it.
Director/Writer Hirokazu Koreeda 是枝裕和; Cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki 山崎裕; Starring Koki Maeda 前田航基, Oshiro Maeda 前田旺志郎; Length 128 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Monday 16 December 2013.