Japan (2011), Dir: Kore-Eda Hirokazu. Scr: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
This is a story about family, childhood and what it is to grow as a young person. With acting so disarmingly honest and natural from the entire cast, it is stunning in its delicacy and perceptiveness. It is a film that is, I think, just about perfect.
The parents of two brothers, thoughtful Koichi and the younger Ryu – who bristles with cheerful energy, have been separated for six months. Koichi lives in Kagoshima with his mother and his grandparents, in the shadow of the Mount Sakurajima volcano, which quietly billows ash and fumes. Ryu lives with his slacker-musician father at the other end of Kyushu, in Fukuoka. They keep frequent and regular contact by phone and, with growing frustration at the inertia of their domestic situation, they hatch a plan to reunite the family.
An extension to the Kyushu line of the Shinkansen is being built. Koichi is eavesdropping on other children at school talking about it and he overhears that, in that precise moment when the first two Bullet Trains racing in opposite directions pass each other, wishes will come true: “A miracle, just like a falling star”. With closest friends enlisted, the adventure is planned: pinpointing of time and place; truancy; raising money for local rail tickets, and; most importantly, each child choosing a wish.
The greatness of this film is in Kore-Eda’s empathy with both the complex childhood responses to experience and with their context: real people living out real lives. We believe in and understand every character and feel that each adult has a part to play in the children’s identity. The mother of Ryu’s friend, a failed actress now running a bar, who resents her daughter’s wish to be an actress; the grandfather – trusted, benevolent and traditional – who enlists Koichi’s help as he toys with the idea of marketing his own Karukan cake; the father – chaotic but brotherly, not unwise and always loving, and of course; the mother, now working in a supermarket, desperate to have both children with her.
Kore-Eda insightfully brings us childhood in all its depth. He lingers on scenes of thrill or discovery: feeling the wind on the face; an adrenalin-fuelled chase after a dragonfly; a distracting garden of cosmos flowers; excited chatting before sleep, and; running and running. He brings us their need for refuge, the innocence, faith, humour and the school-librarian crushes, “That’s not barefoot, that’s barelegged”. He brings us right into their group of friends and we don’t want to leave. We are taken in without sentimentality, nor are the children patronised. What we feel most, though, is how they begin to learn that they are part of the world, which may not always change the way they want it to.
PS The English translation of kiseki is miracle. Pretty good description of this film.
Also by Kore-Eda Hirokazu:
Air Doll (2009)
Still Walking (2008)
Nobody Knows (2004)
After Life (1998)