I Wish (Magnolia Pictures, PG)


film I-Wish_75I like a good coming-of-age movie as much as just about anyone, but there isn’t really anything here to elevate the material above the tropes of the genre.



film I-Wish_500

Japan’s Kore-eda Hirokazu is a mostly unsung great of modern cinema. While from time to time he produces a subpar film (e.g., 2006’s Hana), the vast majority of the work he’s done has been great, or at least something close to it. These days he seems to be best known for 2008’s Still Walking, which even got a release from the Criterion Collection, but that’s nowhere near his best film. If you want to see what he’s capable of, check out 2004’s Nobody Knows, based on a true story of four very quiet kids whose mother abandons them in their apartment for days or weeks at a time, or 1998’s After Life, which is a sweet and moving account of what happens after we die. (The short version: We get to pick out one memory and keep it, but lose all of the others.) And now we have a new film from him, I Wish, which sounds like classic Hirokazu: Again, it is about kids out on their own, and like Still Walking famously did, it at least passingly focuses close to fetishistically on the preparation of food.

Too bad, then, that I Wish is one of Hirokazu’s rare misfires. It’s by no means a bad film, but it isn’t anywhere near his usual standard of quality, either. The film focuses on two young brothers, Koichi (Koki Maeda) and Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda, Koki’a real-life brother), who are separated on account of their parents’ divorce; Koichi lives with his mother Nozomi (Nene Ohtsuka) in Kagoshima, and Ryu lives with his father Kenji (Joe Odagiri of Bright Future and Princess Raccoon) in Fukuoka. Koichi hears a rumor that if one were to make a wish while watching two bullet trains pass one another on opposite tracks, that wish will come true, and so Kenji rounds up some friends, and Ryu gathers some of his own, and they head out on their own to meet where they calculated two recently built bullet trains will cross paths.

Hirokazu proved in Nobody Knows that he’s genius-level at directing child actors, and while his young cast is just fine here (Koki and Ohshiro are a popular comedy team in Japan; this is their first film), the script isn’t strong enough to really sell the endeavor. I like a good coming-of-age movie as much as just about anyone, but there isn’t really anything here to elevate the material above the tropes of the genre. At no point was I terribly interested in or empathetic with Koichi or Ryu, and most of their friends and adventures aren’t any more likeable than they are.

The last film Hirokazu made before I Wish, 2009’s Air Doll, never secured a U.S. distributor, which is a shame, as it’s a much better film than I Wish. That said, it presumably would have been much harder to sell, as it sounds really stupid and insulting on paper: a blow-up sex toy comes to life. It seems like if Hirokazu is talented enough to make something like that work (admittedly there with the help of Odagiri and the great Korean actress Doo-na Bae), he would be able to do just about anything, and he often proves that that is the case. Hopefully his next project is more on par with what international cinema fans have come to expect of him. | Pete Timmermann

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