"I Wish" is a touching modern day folk tale created by Hirokazu Kore-eda ("Nobody Knows", "Still Walking"), told from the child-like perspective of two young brothers separated and longing for each other. The movie is built around their innocent hope that their parents will reconcile when the new Japanese bullet train that connects their two cities meets in the middle.
The film's stars are two real-life adorable brothers (Koki and Ohshiro Maeda) who also comprise a comedy duo. Filmed before the Fukishima disaster and released afterwards, its upbeat, bittersweet mood resonated with Japanese audiences and is an apt antidote to the gloominess that besets many families post-separation, particularly when children are involved.
In this multi-generational topsy-turvy world, Mom mopes and Dad is flaky. Both parents are well-meaning, yet dysfunctional Boomers who act like teenagers, having a hard time negotiating adult lives. The brothers pick up the slack by becoming parentified. Dad is an indie musician living with his band. Mom returns to the ancestral home of her aging parents in a town overshadowed by a smoldering, regularly spewing volcano.
Each parent takes the child with them who most resembles their own personality and demeanor. The more serious and somber older son who goes with Mom is preoccupied with hatching the plan to meet and sweeping up the ash that pervades his life. The more cheerful and care-free younger son who goes with Dad tries to grow a vegetable garden to supplement his fast food diet.
As the film opens, we learn the children have not seen each other for six months. Intensely missing each other, but not knowing what their fate is, they are gripped by the possibilities about this new train reuniting them. Although their daily routines are remarkably similar -- filled with school, friends and swim team -- they are very different in their bed and meal time rituals.
The children stay in frequent contact by telephone. During the saddest call, the younger son confesses to his mother his fear that she's mad at him because he reminds her of his father. The parents don't talk at all. The two brothers live under a split custody arrangement that seems to have been decided between the two parents haphazardly, without much thought or consideration for their children's emotional well-being.
The quiet appeal and beauty of "I Wish" is that it entertains and doesn't preach to the choir, advocate for any position or moralize. Appropriate for audiences above the age of 8 or so, it's not intended to be an instructional or a cautionary tale. Divorce is the set up but doesn't have anything really to do with the plot -- it's the harsh reality the boys must adapt to and cope with.
Split custody co-parenting plans are rarely, if ever, ordered by family courts. There is a strong tendency to view marital bonds as ones that may come and go, but sibling bonds are seen as sacred and protective and therefore to be preserved. Keeping sibling units intact is universally seen as a goal.
The decision to separate well-bonded biological children is something that must happen voluntarily by mutual agreements between co-parents; it occurs below the statistical radar.
Who among you have separated your children when you separated from your significant other out of economic or other necessities? What has it been like for the adults and the children? How often do the children see each other? How long do these arrangements last?
Please respond. I'd like to know.
"I Wish" will be released in the United States on May 11, 2012. It is rated PG.