Friday, May 11, 2012

Kids! Koreeda Hirokazu's glowing & moving I WISH offers the best of them. And of us.

I'm ready to call Koreeda Hirokazu one of the words greatest living filmmakers, certainly among the great humanist artists of all time. Each of his movies seems better than the one before it, and since that one was already full of wonder, amazement, joy and sorrow, how much fuller, more encompassing could his latest offering be? You'll have to see I WISH to find out.

The story of two siblings, Koichi and Ryunosuke -- played repsectively by newcomer brothers Koki Maeda (above, right) and Ohshirô Maeda (left) -- experiencing an enforced division due to the separation of their parents, the movie tracks both their lives, along with the little community that surrounds each of them: relatives, friends, school, teachers and then, finally, "the world," as one of them calls it -- upon discovering that life just might be larger and more complicated than his immediate circumstance had suggested. Has this fact ever hit home in cinema with quite the quiet force and exquisite combination of sadness and delight that it takes on here?

In this film -- the sixth from this director that I have seen, beginning with Maborosi in 1995 -- Mr. Koreeda, shown at left, offers up an almost continuous array of highly specific details, often in rapidly moving, short scenes, of Japanese life today. Much of this will seem both resonant and exotic, not least the active volcano, constantly spewing ash, over the city of Kagoshima where Koichi, his mom and her parents all live. Ryunosuke lives a long way off with his father in the town of Fukuoka, where dad is still struggling to earn a living as a rock musician. Reunion is on the minds of the two boys and their mom, less perhaps to their musical artist dad.

How we come to know and care for all these people -- and we do, even the adults -- constitutes Koreeda's special magic. The Japanese title of this film is Kiseki, which I'm told means miracle. There are a number what one might calls small miracles along the way in this movie -- and one very large one at the finale. Yet thanks to Koreeda's clarity of vision and ability as a filmmaker, none of it seems in the least other-worldly.

Rather, these events have to do with people behaving decently, being kind, helping each other. And finally, in the person of Koichi, at least, taking this in and using it to help himself grow. You don't see things like this in film very often -- certainly not executed with the style and grace shown here. (After all the utterly realistic and almost improvisational scenes with the kids, Koreeda gives us a long montage of visuals that build -- for us and for the character -- into a gorgeous, moving summation of... life.)

Among the movie's many blessings is the character, Megumi (played by Kyara Uchida, in purple dress, above, right), a friend of Ryunosuke who wants to be an actress. How she gets her chance, in a manner no one could have predicted, is tender and original. As is the old couple who help these kids and in the process experience a kind of complete, yet thankfully understated, joy that comes very close to heartbreak. Come on: nobody else in movies is doing anything like this.

To be honest, TrustMovies expected something wonderful from I Wish. But he had no idea it would be this special. The film, 2 hours and eight minutes and not a moment too long, from Magnolia Pictures, opens today in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and the Angelika Film Center; in the Los Angeles area, see it at the Landmark Regent Theatre and the Laemmles' Encino Town Center 5 and Pasadena Playhouse 7. In the weeks and month of come, you'll see the film opening across the country. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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