Finding Wonder Beyond Belief In Santa Claus
Sweet, pretty Megumi and her grade school friends are full of excited talk of miracles and secrets as they burst through her mothers ‘tiny, dirty bar’ en route to the girl’s bedroom above the shop. ‘I used to believe in miracles,’ says a regular, as if the children have left flecks of stardust in their wake. Megumi’s mother, topping up his glass, laughs at the thought of her daughter: ‘She doesn’t even believe in Santa Claus anymore.’
It is a throwaway line, and I’ll be honest, the only reason the dvd release of celebrated Japanese director, Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s I Wish features in kissbangchristmas. Though it helps that this charming and rather wonderful fable about childhood dreams is undoubtedly one of the top films of the year. I Wish stands alongside fellow champion, Mud too at excelling at capturing a moment where youthful innocence gives way to necessary growth.
Hatching a plan
And, funnily enough, the sole reference to Christmas makes perfect sense. The original Japanese title of I Wish is miracle. This is a film about looking for and finding wonder in ordinary life, and also yearning for something more. Seven children hatch a plan to travel across the country to a new track point where two bullet trains pass each other: ‘because of the intense energy, whoever sees it, their wish will come true.’
Yet at is core is a tale of two brothers, 12 year old Koichi and the younger Ryumosuke (real-life siblings Koki and Oshiro Maeda) who live apart with their separated parents. The more conservative Koichi yearns to see his family reunited and it is this which is the spur to his adventure, even as the livewire but more pragmatic Ryu recognises that would not be for the best. The boys at least hope to meet up, and their plan attracts and impacts on those around them.
Magic is not just for children
I Wish is certainly a delightful children’s film focusing on the pre-secondary school age years with touching accuracy. The pre-teens’ heads remain full of fantasy and wonder even as they are beginning to understand life’s reality. But Kore-eda emphasises life’s hope too by showing that age need not quell new beginnings and joys even as adult responsibilities bring their own limitations, and the years their disappointments.
There is a lovely sequence where an elderly couple faced with Megumi pretending that she’s their granddaughter, know full well her deception but nevertheless invite her and her friends to stay the night in their small-town home close to the track point. When setting off to the railway the following morning, and one of the girls runs back to ask if there’s anything they want wished for themselves, they can only respond ‘We couldn’t have asked for anything better then yesterday.’ Their hospitality to the children was repaid by the long-forgotten youthfulness and colour the young strangers brought into their home. There is magic afoot in the world.
Imagination and feelings fuel hope for the future
Koichi’s grandfather, who with his wife now house their daughter, Koichi’s Mum and the boy wonders to a friend: ‘Do kids today feel something about anything?’ Well, yes. One of the heartening aspects of this Japanese movie is that it portrays the nation’s youth as rich with feeling and full of imagination. They dance, act, draw and paint. Together they make and decorate a flag with their individual wishes. They are disarmingly low-tech children. (The dvd includes cast and crew revealing their own dreams; the younger actors are slightly more worldly.)
We cannot be sure any of the children truly believe their wishes will come true even as they scream them through the security fence as the trains pass. They are expressions of the different stages of childhood: some are mundane (‘I want to run faster’), others speak of confusion and heartache (‘Make Dad quit gambling!’). In the communal shouting, each child has been able to express their most personal desires. They are prayers of a sort, cries in the dark, dreams, wishes, hopes, or moments of acceptance.
A vital step along the path to adulthood
For the very act has cast its own ‘magic’. Koichi has realised that his brother and father are better off separated from their mother (or at least has come to accept that his parents will not reunite and that that’s ok), and Megumi has decided that she is going to head to Tokyo to become an actress, and what’s more, courageously choose to tell her mother that this is her next move.
As with Kore-eda’s earlier acclaimed After Life (1998), we are shown how life’s moments have their own memorable value. These children will always remember their ‘I Wish’ moment by the side of the railway, but the journey to that experience and what unexpectedly emerged at that moment of truth proved a vital step towards maturity and adult life. The world of dreams and desires, of ‘I wishes’ and fairytale figures – why, even Santa Claus – are shown to be an integral part of life’s journey.
I Wish is available on Blue-ray at £19.99, and DVD at £17.99