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I wish there were more films like I Wish: films that capture the wise foolishness and foolish wisdom of children without making them into miniature adults. Films that take seriously the efforts of children to deal with pain they can barely comprehend without getting maudlin or goopy. Films that deal in moral tragedy without making a monster of anyone involved and do it with such deftness that the ordinary joy of life, the joy that persists despite tragedy, is not obscured.

Phew! It’s hard to write about such films. Already I’ve made I Wish sound like heavier going than it is. For what it’s worth, most of these observations showed up only in hindsight. While I was watching I was just enjoying director Hirokazu Koreeda’s meandering story of a 12-year-old boy and his adventures. And marveling a little at how he caught the way children are connected to their family while simultaneously inhabiting their own little worlds.

Twelve-year-old Koichi lives with his mother in Kagoshima, Japan, next to a smoldering volcano that covers everything with a fine layer of ash. The ash-grime is a fine image, because Koichi’s world is stained with his parents’ divorce. His younger brother chose to live with his father in far-off Hakata, and so the separation is doubly painful. When Koichi wishes that the volcano would erupt just so that his mother would have to move back in with his father, it feels right — his pain blinds him to the horror such an event would inflict on others.

But Koichi isn’t a mopey, broken wretch. He has friends, he loves his mother, and he works with his grandfather to make old-timey cakes for hungry travelers on the new bullet train. That train becomes the source of Koichi’s hope. He believes that if he can witness two such trains passing each other, the energy created by their passing will grant his wish. Or rather, he doesn’t quite believe it, but he wants to believe it, and that’s reason enough to try. The wise foolishness of children.

Opens June 8 at the Reading Gaslamp.

★★★★

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