I WISH (KISEKI) (director/writer: Hirokazu Koreeda; cinematographer: Yutaka Yamasaki; editor: Hirokazu Koreeda; music: Quruli; cast: Koki Maeda (Koichi), Ohshiro Maeda (Ryunosuke), Ryoga Hayashi (Tasuku), Seinosuke Nagayoshi (Makoto), Kyara Uchida (Megumi), Kanna Hashimoto (Kanna), Rento Isobe (Rento), Nene Ohtsuka (Nozomi), Joe Odagiri (Kenji), Yui Natsukawa (Kyoko), Masami Nagasawa (Ms. Mimura), Isao Hashizume (grandfather), Kirin Kiki (grandmother), Hiroshi Abe (Teacher); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kentaro Koike/Hijiri Taguchi; Magnolia Pictures; 2011-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

"A pleasing but slow-moving family drama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda ("After Life"/"Still Walking"/"Nobody Knows") helms a pleasing but slow-moving family drama of two once inseparable charming energetic elementary-school brothers, the sixth grader Koichi (Koki Maeda) and his younger sibling Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda), who are real-life brothers. They now live apart and scheme to come up with a plan to bring their divorced parents back together so they can once again live together as four in Osaka as before the separation. Their mom Nozomi (Nene Ohtsuka) has moved with Koichi to the volcano city of Kagoshima to live in the backwater small-town with her old-fashioned parents (Isao Hashizume & Kirin Kiki), whereby mom works as a supermarket cashier. Meanwhile the unstable conventional worker dad, Kenji (Joe Odagiri), lives in in his hometown bustling city of Fukuoka with Ryu and aspires to get his act together as a guitarist with a struggling rock band. 

Since the adults show no signs of wanting to get together again, the kids believe that if one makes a wish at exactly the place and moment that two new bullet trains first pass each other, for some miraculous reason the wish will come true. There are many problems with this plan, starting with meeting the expense of the train tickets to get them to the midway point, finding a way to get out of school and their homes for the day, getting help from a few peers, and some questions of figuring out the timing of putting their elaborate plan into operation. When it comes time to make their wishes, the children learn a life lesson that wishes are subject to change.

There are also subplots to accompany the child adventure story, such as the misplaced contempt the kids in Kagoshima have for their well-intentioned but gruff homeroom teacher (Hiroshi Abe) and how they have a crush on the nice young school librarian (Masami Nagasawa). In Fukuoka, cutie pie Ryu hangs with a group of girls who coddle him, one of whom is aspiring actress (Kyara Uchida). Her pretty mother, Kyoko (Yui Natsukawa), formerly lived in Tokyo and failed to become a star as an actress and now feels like a failure running a bar in town and is so embittered with her acting experience she discourages her daughter in pursuing an acting career. Meanwhile the boys' loopy maternal grandparents keep alert with granny taking hula lessons and grandpa trying to bring back to favor an old-fashioned traditional karuna cake, now out of style, to be part of the grand opening hoopla surrounding the arrival of the bullet train.

Though offering keen observations from the POV of two elementary school kids on contemporary family life in Japan, there's not enough of a narrative to overwhelm me with its storytelling. Instead I felt an admiration for this gentle and sincere film but not a love.

REVIEWED ON 12/14/2012       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"