Saturday, November 12, 2011

BIFF Reviews: Kawaii Edition

I Wish:

“What does “Indie” mean?”
“I think it means you have to try harder.”

Fans of Kore-eda may fear that his latest, a narrative about kids attempting to reunite their split family by the power of a wish granted by a bullet train, may represent an avowal of the above sentiment. It has, after all, been payed for largely by a bullet train company and both the tone of the advertising and its early reception have hinted that it might be something of a “sell out” film.

In some ways it is just that. With its relatively light tone and soundtrack – the latter a kind of easy-listening blues which ranges from rollicking to genial – it is definitely a more accessible film then the likes of Distance or Nobody Knows. Kore-eda establishes this pretty early on with a scene which serves not only to introduce us to its pint-sized protagonist but also to the kind of gentle, goofy jokes which run throughout the film. I’m yet to see Hana and Air Doll but I think I can safely say there’s more levity here than in the rest of his filmography combined.

However the change is more refreshing than jarring. It’s an unexpectedly lovely experience hanging out with these kids for two hours – all the more so because in many ways Kore-eda hasn’t changed at all. Formally the film brings together a number of things he’s been doing for some time. An unhurried, unintrusive mood is created through a combination of locked-down or gently panning long shots combined with the judicious use of close-ups, all held for some time. Furthermore, in occasional shots of vigorous movement, spurts of documentary style handheld camera work appear. That’s not to say that there aren’t some concessions to the marketplace – I believe that this is the first time montage has cropped up in his work – but it’s more a case of him expanding his style to fit the the lighter mood than a desperate bid for a hit.

It’s not just his filmic toolbox that remains more or less the same: he hasn’t sacrificed his commitment to naturalistic characterisations and plotting either – although the youngest is certainly a little more, um, rambunctious than the average Kore-eda kid. It’s not as thematically lax as one might expect either. While too diffuse in its focus and committed to its light tone to be described as “rigorous” it nonetheless has a few points to make about growing up and contains some touching observations. (My personal favourite is that while the older kid’s desire to get his family back together is driven by happy memories his younger brother is less committed because he only remembers the hard times.)

While it may put off hypothetical art-house purists, I Wish, is a welcome variation in an increasingly valuable filmography. It also serves as a welcome reminder to me that a film’s non-selection at Cannes, or less than rapturous reception, can be as much a result of a film’s type as of its quality.

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