'Why is everyone so calm when the volcano is erupting?" a schoolkid wonders as he and a friend work their way through the town of Kagoshima, the ashes of an active volcano coating its streets in dust.
And there's a wondrous calm to I Wish, a wistful heartbreaker from the Japanese master of quiet observation, Hirokazu Kore-eda. Like Nobody Knows (abandoned children fend for themselves) and Still Walking (intergenerational family friction), I Wish moves unhurriedly, capturing its subjects in the small, telling moments of the everyday.
Two brothers, Koichi and Ryunosuke (played by real-life siblings Koki and Ohshiro Maeda), live hundreds of miles apart. Their parents have separated. Koichi, the older of the two (he's 12), resides with his mother and grandparents in Kagoshima. In the morning, he wipes the table tops, cleaning away the night's ash.
Ryunosuke lives in Hakata, on the province's northern end, with his father, who sleeps late and plays in a rock band.
Koichi hears that a new bullet train will link the two cities. His friends at school tell him that if you make a wish at the point where the two trains pass, the wish will come true. And so a plan is hatched to travel to this point on the map, meet his brother there, and hope for a miracle: that their family can be one again.
If this sounds dangerously sappy, it's not. Kore-eda, deploying a Western pop score by the Japanese indie-rock band Quruli, just lets these kids be kids. The brothers, joined by a few pals, plan their sojourn (with the amusing complicity of the school nurse), while the camera roams through the respective cities, day and night, stopping to see what the boys' mother is doing, the boys' dad, the grandfather, his friends.
I Wish is a tale of discovery, of a world of grown-ups seen through children's eyes.