Never the Trains Shall Meet
With a new father’s appreciation of children and family, Hirokazu Kore-eda returns to those concerns in I Wish/Kiseki. His own preliminary script combined them with a personal interest in railroads, spurred by last year’s inauguration of the high-velocity shinkansen bullet-train line linking northern and southern Kyūshū island.
However, open auditions for the seven featured youngsters turned up Koki and Ohshiro Maeda, a popular brother comedy team billed as MaedaMaeda, and the original story was changed to center about two brothers’ attempt to reunite their divorced parents to live as “we four again.”
Tone, focus and a more realistic though not hoped-for outcome distance this from two takes and TV sequels of The Parent Trap. The director-writer-editor’s initial mental picture was from Stand by Me, until he realized that, elevated on concrete piers, his train tracks were unwalkable and visible only from above.
Nor is this Richard Dreyfuss’ adult writer looking back on coming-of-age experience. It is a world of childhood, period, where the Japanese title of the film and theme song, which means “miracle,” can still be believed in. The preteens are cinema cute and the grandparent generation is understanding, but the three parents who appear are not sympathetic or screen-successful.
For six months, the brothers have lived apart, communicating by cell phone and needing to catch up on their parents -- romantic adventures? -- and each other. Now twelve, Koichi (Koki) lives in Kagoshima, menaced with smoke and ash from an uneasy volcano. He and mother Nozomi (Nene Ohtsuka) have moved in with her parents, patient homemaker Hideko (Kirin Kiki) and retired Shukichi (Isao Hashizume), he a tad restive and drinking with the buddies with whom he hatches fruitless money-making schemes.
To the north, in Hakata, Ryunosuke (Oshiro) plants vegetables at the informal hippie-ish digs of dad Kenji (Joe Odagiri), a rock guitarist who had incurred mother’s wrath by quitting his day job “to live like a student.”
Koichi pals around with schoolmates Tasuku and Makoto (Ryoga Hayashi and Seinosuke Nagayoshi), each with his sixth-grader dreams of adult life and love. Two-years-younger “Ryu” is buddies with Rento (Rento Isobe) and girls Kanna (Kanna Hashimoto) and much taller Megumi (Kyara Uchida). The latter yearns to be an actress in Tokyo, though there is scant encouragement from her mother Kyoko (Yui Natsukawa), who gave up her own acting for motherhood and, manless, runs the Luna bar.
Koichi, the brains and manipulator behind the plan they act on, is the doubter among the group, shrugging “I don’t get it” about grown-ups and their ways. But it is he who conceives that miracles may come to pass, Disney’s “your dreams come true,” if they make their wishes at the exact second and place that the north- and southbound trains from their respective towns fly by each other at a hundred-sixty miles per hour.
The kids’ adventures raising twelve thousand-plus yen for the round-trip outing, finagling their way out of classes and enlisting Grandpa to cover their tracks, have their moments, and there is an engaging older couple who help out because Megumi reminds them of a daughter who has left and dropped out of their lives.
A Japanese viewer indicated that there are cultural nuances -- e.g., a reference to “the world” -- that are untranslatable and cannot be explained in subtitles. Still, at eight minutes over two hours, the story goes on too long, with an excess of intercuts and brief scenes that do not contribute enough to warrant inclusion. Successful in the home islands, premièring at Toronto and included at the Lincoln Center Film Comments Selects series, I Wish may tire Western audiences.
(Released by Magnolia Pictures and rated “PG” by MPAA.)