Going into I Wish, I had never seen any films by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Coming out of it, I swore to try and watch as many of his films as I could get my hands on. I Wish is one of the most beautifully heartfelt films dealing with the topic of children and divorce I have ever seen. Kore-eda brings reality to the film, but not in a needlessly stark fashion. Instead, I Wish is a celebration of children and family, even while it mourns the troubles of parenthood and marriage.
The optimistic viewpoint of the film no doubt comes from its focus on children. The main characters are two young brothers who now each live with one parent in different cities. Their greatest wish is for their family to be reunited and live together once more. Kore-eda does not indulge this fantasy, or even romanticize it. Instead, he shows us the reality of their lives for a number of months as the kids cope with their new lives.
The main plot of the film has the brothers making a plan to meet each other along the new bullet train line and make a wish as two of the trains pass each other. But through the film they also make new friends, learn lessons from their parents and grandparents, and we even get a glimpse at the lives of some of the other children. The relationships between the kids and the adults in the film is wonderfully rendered. The children don’t know much about life, but in some ways, neither do the parents and other authority figures around them. What Kore-eda shows us in I Wish is that in the end we are all just trying to find the best way to cope with life, and the most valuable thing of all is the families of people we create around us.
This could not be more clear than in the last half-hour or so of the film. The brothers, and a bunch of their friends, do meet up in a small town to wish on the passing trains. Through some very funny circumstances, they end up staying with an elderly couple who are very happy to have the company. As we see the bond re-form between the brothers, between their friends, between them and the older couple, and even later, between the kids and their parents, the messages of the film take hold powerfully. So powerfully, in fact, that I spent that last section of the film in various states of emotional wreck. Not because it was sad, but because the sense of loving melancholy Kore-eda crafts in those scenes was palpable. Even writing about it right now I am beginning to be overcome with emotion.
That’s the power of I Wish, and I could not recommend it enough. The love of humanity present in the film is as strong as in any I’ve ever seen. Kore-eda has made a masterpiece of a film, and I don’t say that lightly.