Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu has a knack for telling whimsical stories. In his 1998 narrative, “After Life,” dead people were given the chance to choose their favorite memory and have it made into a movie that they would live throughout eternity.
In his latest film, “I Wish,” two young brothers who are separated when their parents split plan a reunification by wishing on a bullet train.
A solemn 12 year-old, Koichi (Maeda Koki) is more resolute than his younger brother Ryunosuke (Maeda Ohshiro). So, naturally he chooses to live in Kagoshima with their disciplined mother and her pragmatic parents. As for goofball Ryu, he winds up with their slacker musician dad in Fukuoka. Separated by 138 miles, the two boys dream of being together again while gossiping about their parents over the phone.
In Kagoshima, near the active volcano Sakurajima, Koichi sweeps ashes that collect in his room and worries about his divided family. One day, he hears that he can have any wish come true by standing in the exact spot where two new bullet trains, speeding at 170 mph, pass each other in opposite directions. Mapping the location, Koichi convinces Ryu to meet him there. Their wonder-filled adventure is inspirational and as fresh as the snack cake their grandfather creates to sell in honor of the new bullet train line.
Kore-eda’s fanciful ideas succeed because evil doesn’t exist in his world. Sure, Koichi and Ryu’s father is a loser, but he’s not mainlining heroin or sleeping around with other women. And while their mother is hypercritical, it’s only out of concern for her family.
Real life comedians and brothers, the Maeda boys are charming and convincing in their roles—a blessing for such a lengthy movie. Not just for kids, this film is full of sweetness and light, and proof that wishes can come true.
On the other hand, “The Day He Arrives” is filled with shadows and appears to be one long night of non-stop drinking, eating, smoking and talking for filmmaker slash professor Sang-Joon Yoo, or Director Yoo as he’s addressed by peers and fans alike.
On a solitary quest for some unnamed thing, Yoo (Yu Junsang) arrives in Seoul after having moved to the country to teach filmmaking. But it seems he forgot to call ahead, and the person he wants to visit doesn’t answer his phone nor check his voicemails. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of people Yoo keeps running into who either know him or know of him. It’s presumed that his catalogue of films is chock full of award winners as even mere strangers recognize him and are immediately eager to engage him.
There’s an actress who admires Yoo’s work, a trio of film students who idolize him to the point of annoyance, and the woman he once loved but left. Initially, she rebuffs him before scolding him; then, allows him to seduce her again. Afterwards, Yoo wanders the streets, running into his friend Young-ho (Kim Sangjoong) and Young-ho’s companion, pretty film professor Bo-ram (Song Sunmi). After drinking, eating, smoking and talking, they meet again and again to repeat the routine making it seem as if each night is the same one that never ends. And while Young-ho yearns for Bo-ram, she flirts with Yoo who, in turn, desires the bar owner who looks identical to the woman he broke up with.
A forlorn romp through snow-soaked Seoul, this black and white film has at its center an intriguing premise about coincidences and repetition. But it’s hard to empathize with Yoo and his melancholic musings when he comes across as a self-serving jerk unmotivated to help others—like the aforementioned trio of students or the actor he contracted for a picture, then dumped.
With 12 films to his credit, director Hong Sang-soo has made other movies about filmmakers and irony including his 2009 “Like You Know It All.” Although known on the indie film circuit, Hong is not yet an international name. Perhaps, as this film’s title suggests, the arrival he anticipates is his own.
“I Wish” opens June 20 at the Landmark Varsity and “The Day He Arrives” opened June 8 at the NW Film Forum.