Even without much of a plot, this meandering Japanese film holds our attention with a clear-eyed attention to character detail and situations that spark our imaginations. Beautifully shot and edited, filmmaker Kore-eda tells the story from a child's eye, offering a funny, involving look at growing up. And the film refreshingly never pushes its themes home, delicately letting us take an adventure along with a group of lively kids.
After their parents separated, the thoughtful young Koichi (Koki Maeda) went with their mother (Ohtsuka) to live in the southern city of Kagoshima, which is dominated by an ash-spewing volcano. He misses his cheeky little brother Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda, Koki's real brother), who has moved north to live with their slacker-musician dad (Odagiri) in Fukuoka. Over the phone, they hatch an elaborate plan to ditch school and meet up at the seemingly magical point where new bullet trains cross, where their wishes will be granted. Travelling with their friends, Koichi and Ryu begin to realise that what they wish for might be changing.
Yes, this is a sort of coming-of-age film in which two young boys make some startling discoveries about the world. But writer-director Kore-eda never overstates any of this, so the film feels like almost like a free-form documentary following both the children and adults through everyday experiences that are so well observed that they take our breath away. In the raw, honest performances from the entire cast, we feel like we're watching ourselves up there on-screen.
Along the way, Kore-eda quietly deepens all of the side characters along with the two brothers at the centre. So we are entranced with telling explorations of all kinds of truths about everyday experiences, relationship issues and some very big questions about life itself. And it all plays out in such a disarmingly natural way that we can't help but get swept up in these kids' big adventure, just as the adults around them are. So the story's climax and conclusion are simply exquisite. It's rare to find such a breezy, enjoyable film that contains so much satisfying depth.
Run time: 128 mins
In Theaters: Saturday 11th June 2011
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 64 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Producer: Kentaro Koike, Hijiri Taguchi
Screenwriter: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Starring: Christa Brittany Allen as Molly