Hirokazu Koreeda's work is unknown to me, so I approach this review unable to comment on how it compares to his previous films. "I Wish" is the story of two brothers, living apart due to their young parents failed marriage, coping with their separate lives. They hear an urban legend that wishes come true when made at the point when two bullet trains pass by one another, so they agree to travel with friends to a point where they can all express their desires.
This film is a perfect example of the slow film that divides opinion. Those that love it say that it is gentle, thoughtful, measured; while those that couldn't stand it say that it's meandering, nothing happens. It's easy to empathise with both crowds, though by my score you can guess I've drunk the Kool-aid.
It is a slow film (my favourite euphemism for this is 'patient' by the way) and has modest ambitions, but it certainly is also an adventure film - it's just that the adventure is on the scale of your average holiday special. The plot itself is not the main reason to like this movie and neither are the characters, who never rise above representing their wishes.
Instead the enjoyment comes from the cinematography, which is never less than beautiful, and the soundtrack which are woven together to create a really joyful experience. "I Wish" is genuinely life-affirming, without straying too far into sentimentality (though it is guilty of this at times). It also does a great job of expressing to this wanna-be otaku what Japanese life in a small town might be like - or at least better than most anime does.
It struck me when leaving the cinema that I rarely watch new live-action Japanese films - the last one I can think of was the excellent 'Departures', which won "Best Foreign Language Film" in 2009. When I think of modern Japanese cinema, I think of speedily-made Takashi Miike horror films that cling to a mid-90s burst of inspiration. If "I Wish" does anything, it will at least make me re-evaluate the non-animated output of the great cultural melting pot of Japan.