Like birthday candles, shooting stars or wishbones, it's worth a wish and a try.
Koichi, a 12-year-old Japanese boy, hears talk about the intense energy released when two bullet trains first pass each other. "Whoever sees it, their wish will come true, just like a falling star," a classmate claims.
3 stars = Good
- Starring: Koki Maeda, Ohshiro Maeda.
- Rating: PG for mild thematic elements, language and smoking. With subtitles.
The tween's wish is not a whopper, but it is intensely personal and understandable in "I Wish." His parents are divorced, and he's living with his unemployed mother and maternal grandparents in the southern region of Kyushu, Japan, while his younger brother is bunking with their musician-dad in northern Kyushu.
The boys occasionally talk on the telephone, but it's obviously not the same as when the family lived together in Osaka, sometimes in harmony and increasingly not. When a bullet train line is about to connect the north and south, Koichi and his pals hatch a plan to witness this "miracle" (the movie's original title in Japanese) and little brother Ryunosuke decides to do his part, too.
What someone wishes for -- as adults, at age 12 or younger -- says as much about a person as anything else. A woman longs to start life over from the time she was 20 while a girl yearns to be an actress and a boy dreams of following in the footsteps of his hero, baseball legend Ichiro Suzuki.
In the end, it is Koichi's maturity rather than his ability to magically mend his family that will be tested in this charmer from the director of "After Life" and "Nobody Knows."
The first, which played here in 1999, was about the examination of memory and meaning as the newly dead are asked to choose one recollection to take with them into eternity. The second, from 2005, was about a makeshift family of children left to survive when their mother leaves one day and asks her 12-year-old boy to care for the others.
Writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda, inspired by the opening of the bullet train line, cast real-life brothers and youthful comedy duo Koki Maeda and Ohshiro Maeda (they perform as the double-named MaedaMaeda) as the siblings.
He surrounded them with children who had never acted before; the director gave them their lines but no scripts along with props and a request that they try to ignore the camera. Thanks to the casting and canny moviemaking, the children are wonderfully natural as you sense you are eavesdropping or invisibly going along for the ride.
As the elder brother, Koki plays the serious one, whose favorite phrase seems to be, "I don't get it." As in why people are so calm while living near an active volcano that covers everything with a layer of ash. His brother is a fourth-grader, happy go lucky, surrounded by girls and sometimes required to play parent to his rocker dad.
The children in "I Wish" may deal with divorce and disappointment, but they are cushioned by loving grandparents, refuges at school such as the library and nurse's office and their own ingenuity when it comes to raising money for their excursion.
This is not a fairy tale but an adventure for the participants and bystanders with lessons that leave everyone wonderstruck, a little wiser and more worldly in a good way.
In Japanese with English subtitles. Opens Friday at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room.