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Year: 2011
Director: Koreeda Hirokazu
Screenplay: Koreeda Hirokazu
Cinematography: Yutaka Yamazaki
Cast:  Maeda Koki, Maeda Oshiro, Odagiri Joe, Otsuka Nene, Hashizume Isao, Kiki Kirin
Runtime: 128 mins
Trailer: at nipponcinema (not subtitled)
Film’s official website: 奇跡 (in Japanese)

Seen at a screening at Vue West as part of the 2011 BFI Film Festival.

Kiseki (literally “Miracle”, but titled “I Wish” in English) is a film that belongs to the ‘slice of life’ genre. There is, however, a plot line: it revolves around two boys, Koichi and Ryu (wonderfully played by real life brothers Maeda Koki and Maeda Ohshiro), who have been living in different parts of Japan since their parents’ divorce six months prior. The older boy, Koichi, lives with his mother (Otsuka Nene) and grandparents (Hashizume Isao and Kiki Kirin) and particularly struggles to accept the separation. Ryu, meanwhile, is the eternal optimist. He is forever trying to put a positive spin on things and makes the best of the situation, something that includes parenting his indie rock-musician father (Odagiri Joe). The film, which provides only some detail on the children’s life before the divorce, hints at this being one of the reasons for the boys’ separation.

Koichi overhears that when the superfast shinkansen trains on the newly built track between Kagoshima and Fukuoka (where the boys live) pass each other for the first time, wishes will come true for anyone witnessing the event, and thus concocts a plan to meet his brother in that very spot. This is the story that drives Kiseki, yet at the heart of the film are the snippets of people’s everyday lives:  Running to school with hair still wet. Watching fava beans grow. Checking for volcanic ash in the air. Eating crumbs from the bottom of a crisp bag. Boycrushing on the kind librarian. Haggling for a discount on octopus puffs (or uttering lighthearted threats otherwise).

The film initially is a little slow, although it is difficult to pinpoint where exactly the excess lies because overall Kiseki feels just right. We learn about the various characters, each with his or her own quirks in personality and unique dreams. Other than Koichi, Ryu and immediate family members, there are also boys’  friends that join them on their journey of wishes, as well as few other, more minor characters (various teachers, grandpa’s sock-fiddling pals, an old couple that has long lost contact with their daughter) that add their bit to Kiseki.

The film’s highlight is the trip to the shinkansen meeting point, not because it is the climax that Kiseki has been aiming for, but rather because it’s such a delight to see that group of seven children make their essentially crazy plan (it is a two-day trip, ingeniously afforded by selling action figures and scouring for dropped coins under vending machines, but with no overnight accommodation prearranged) happen. Even the few adults that discover what the children have set out to do, wisely let them be without interfering: it’s the children’s own, secret adventure, possible and promising miracles for them only because they are still – for a little while longer at least – children.

Do miracles happen? The film doesn’t really answer this question. Some of the children’s wishes do not – cannot – come true as they themselves know, but others might very well: perhaps through the miraculous power of two shinkansen trains passing each other or by the effort individuals exert in order to make their dreams come true, or, a little bit of both.

Rating: 8.5/10

Bonus Cultural Reference Explained:

Early on in the film Ryu’s actress friend Emi is asked by a classmate whether she has met ‘Nino’ and, if she does, to get his autograph. Another classmate responds that she prefers ‘Ohno’. The conversation has no real relevance to the film (other than being very slice-of-life) and is easily missed, but the names are a reference to two members of the J-pop band Arashi.

Bonus Links:

The OST was composed by Quruli and is to be released on 2011/11/09. Several Asia-based online stores (YesasiaCD Japan; Play-Asia; CD Banq) have it listed for preorder, but it may become available on iTunes as well. You can sample the theme song on the film’s official website.