In October I discovered I was a fan of Japanese writer and director Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝 裕和) when I went to see Like Father, Like Son. That cinema outing prompted me to go home and get straight on Amazon, and the result was my purchase of I Wish (奇跡).
This afternoon I put my feet up and allowed myself to travel to Kyushu (九州) – Japan’s third-largest island – with Koreeda and his wonderful selection of actors. I Wish, or ‘Kiseki’ (li. ‘Miracle’) to give it its Japanese name, is just what I have grown to expect from Koreeda (possibly the best contemporary Japanese film director). The story was natural, touching, and poignant, the characters believable, and the acting sublime. Koreeda’s method of selecting his child actors and then forming the story around them and letting them speak naturally without a script really does bring fascinating results.
I Wish is a story about miracles. Told from the point of view of 12 year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda), this story shows how kids live with the freedom to believe anything can happen. In fact, it’s not just kids – adults can believe too if they allow themselves. Alongside Koki is his real-life brother Oshiro Maeda, playing his onscreen younger brother Ryunosuke. The two brothers, separated by quarrelling parents who have divorced and live in separate towns, decide to meet and make their wishes come true. They have heard about the new shinkansen (bullet train) that is coming to Kyushu, and believe that at the moment the high-speed shinkansen trains going in opposite directions cross paths miracles can happen. Together with a group of friends they skip school and set off on a heart-warming mission.
Like Koreeda’s other films, so much of this story is about everyday life in Japan. The kids go to school, they come home, eat, and do their homework. Familiar phrases are uttered, such as “ittekimasu”, “itterashai”, and “tadaima” when coming and going (these phrases don’t have decent translations, but they can be literally translated as “I’m off”, “Please go and come back”, and “I’m back”). Something which more advanced learners of Japanese might also pick up on is the use of regional dialects in the movie. My Japanese isn’t good enough to notice the Kagoshima-ben and Osaka-ben used in the film (‘-ben’ means dialect), but the DVD contains an interesting set of interviews with the actors that point out the difficulty of improvising when having to remember to use an accent or regional dialect. Although the adults did use a script, they were still encouraged to improvise, but had to remember to do so in full character, including their accent.
I think this is the first time I’ve watched a film set in Kyushu, and it was interesting to see the scenery. So many of the streets could have been any part of suburban Japan (slightly run-down, stuck in a bit of a time-warp), but the addition of Sakurajima (桜島) as a backdrop was an unusual touch. Sakurajima is an active volcano in Kagoshima Prefecture which is continuously erupting. When Koichi wakes in the morning he has to clean his room because the ash from the eruptions has settled like dust. It’s something he’s used to, but he says he doesn’t really understand why people live so close to the volcano, and he wants it to erupt properly so that they have to move away and live somewhere else.
If you’re looking for a glimpse of real life in Japan, and need something to warm your heart in these chilly months, I highly recommend checking out I Wish. It’s a truly beautiful film, and it might even remind you that miracles can happen if you open your heart and believe.