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Childhood dreams explored in time for Christmas

A scene from Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s film, “I Wish.” (Miro Vision)
A scene from Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s film, “I Wish.” (Miro Vision)
Upcoming Japanese film ‘I Wish’ moving story of fractured families

It is a known fact that Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-Eda knows how to make films with child actors.

After his 2004 childhood drama “Nobody Knows,” which won its 14-year-old star Yaya Yagira the Best Actor prize at Cannes in the same year, Kore-Eda is back with another moving portrait of young souls distraught by their parents’ divorce.

Yet the upcoming movie, titled “I Wish,” is rather lighthearted compared to the 2004 drama, filled with whimsical childhood imagination and desires delivered by its engrossing child actors and actresses.

The story begins as a curious 12-year-old school boy Koichi (Koki Maeda) comes up with a plan to have his biggest wish fulfilled. After his parents’ divorce, Koichi lives with his mother and maternal grandparents in Kagoshima, Kyushu, while his younger brother Ryunosuke (Ohshiro Maeda) and guitarist father (Joe Odagiri) live in Hakata in Fukuoka.

Having moved to an unfamiliar town where its famous volcano Sakurajima emits plumes of ash almost every day, Koichi’s wish is for the volcano to erupt so he and his mother will have no choice but move back to Hakata and live with the rest of the family again.

After hearing that a new Shinkansen line running between Kyushu and Fukuoka is almost completed, Koichi comes to believe that a miracle will occur when the first two trains of the new route, bound in opposite directions, pass each other for the very first time.

Koichi’s simple and cheerful younger brother, whose wish is to become a “Kamen Rider” character in the popular Japanese TV manga series, joins his brother and his friends’ project to catch the exact moment when the two trains pass each other.
Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Yonhap News)
Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda (Yonhap News)

The two young characters ― Koichi and Ryunosuke ― are played by Koki and Ohshiro Maeda, real-life brothers off screen. The Maeda brothers bring a realistic portrayal of children of a fractured family, while managing to make the audience smile for their often silly, childlike sense of wonder. They fight over left-over chips, find “no taste” in the rice cakes their grandfather makes, and rub their thermometers against their body to make it look like they have a fever.

Kore-Eda selected the duo among the 1,000 child actors who tried out for the roles. He was particularly moved by the energetic presence of Ohshiro Maeda during the audition, and even changed the initial plot of the film according to the actor’s impish, curious personality.

“I was actually thinking of doing a story of a young boy and a girl who live far away from each other,” said Kore-Eda during a press conference in Seoul, Monday. “But after seeing Ohshiro, I decided to make a film about young brothers instead. Ohshiro in real life is pretty much like what you see on the screen. I wanted to capture his original charm in the movie.”

Kore-Eda, who became a father four years ago, said being a parent changed his perspective on filmmaking.

“Many have told me that my depiction of children has changed over the years,” he said. “It wasn’t a conscious decision (to change), but I certainly appreciate the fact that I got to improve as a filmmaker while my approach and style changed at the same time.”

Kore-Eda, who worked with Korean actress Bae Doo-na for his 2009 drama “Air Doll,” said he likes to delve into human relationships and their implications. “Right now I am interested in the father-child relationship,” he said. “I want to explore which of the two has more impact on a child’s life ― the innate qualities or the things he learns through his childhood.”

“I Wish” premiered at this year’s BIFF, and received the SIGNIS prize at San Sebastian International Film Festival. It opens in theaters on Dec. 22.

By Claire Lee (