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Child’s Play: Hirokazu Koreeda’s I Wish (2011) – DVD review

July 26, 2013 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

Childhood in all of its complexity, captured with such naturalism that you’ll end up sharing the characters’ faith in their magic-realist fantasy.

I Wish
(Hirokazu Koreeda, 2011)

In childhood, everything is magnified. The good times are exhilarating: learning, playing, hatching plans with friends. Yet the bad times are agonising, especially if there is trouble at home.  I Wish captures these feelings perfectly – without melodrama, manipulation or cynicism, but simply by presenting a scenario where the extremes arise naturally.

It’s the story of two brothers, Koichi and Ryu, who are living apart in different cities after the separation of their parents. For Koichi, the world has ended – he desperately wants the family back together and, if it takes the local volcano erupting to make that happen, then so be it. But despite maintaining a connection with his brother – they take swimming lessons at the same time so they can call each other from the pool afterwards – Ryu feels differently. The younger brother, he remembers only the pain of his parents arguing and he quite likes his new, carefree life.

So far, so schematic… but Hirokazu Koreeda paints these distinct personalities with subtlety and complexity. Yes, Koichi is solemn and introverted, taking after his mother, while Ryu’s wildness reflects the mindset of his eternal-student father. Yet we’re not talking Cain and Abel, and Koreeda’s deft cross-cutting reveals the similarities: both are dreamers, blessed with huge generosity of spirit.  Casting is crucial here.  Koreeda finished scripting only after finding real-life brothers Koki Maeda and Oshiro Maeda, who are actually child comedians on the Japanese stand-up circuit.

More interestingly, both brothers forge close friendships in groups that act as surrogate families, so when Koichi invites Ryu to test out a theory that wishes come true if you stand at the point where two bullet trains pass, they have plenty of people who’ll tag along. And with this, Koreeda shows the care that separates a great director from the herd, by reaching out beyond the central duo to explain why their friends want to come – not out of altruism, but through their own yearning.

I Wish proves a universal title, for (as Jean Renoir once observed) everybody has their reasons, ranging from the macabre – the hoped-for revivification of a dead dog – to more traditional dreams of becoming an actress. The hope is enough to fuel a Quixotic, Stand By Me-esque road trip, and Koreeda strikes lovely parallels with the adult characters, who deal with their own wishes in equally illogical ways, from the grandfather stubbornly insisting on making sponge cakes despite everybody telling him the flavour isn’t right, to the wannabe rock star dad who treats having a lie-in as a legitimate attempt to feed his muse.  When an Ozu-style elderly couple are roped into the kids’ game, it’s clear that there is no expiry date on the hunger or the ability to daydream.

Koreeda captures events with a mercurial style that oscillates from plaintive stillness – especially when capturing Koki Maeda’s expressively limpid eyes – through to fleet-footed exuberance, with livewire Oshiro Maeda as Ryu providing some joyous momentum as he races through life. And while ‘doing a montage’ is the oldest trick in the book, Koreeda is able to channel the surging emotions into some exceptional sequences.  One towards the end somehow manages to summarise the entire film in a rapid-fire series of still-frames showing key objects and symbols; if only for a moment, the characters’ ungraspable dreams are transformed into something tangible.

I Wish is available on DVD now.

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