Young Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives in Japan, in the shadow of a huge volcano which constantly belches ash – which he spends each day cleaning from his floor and brushing from his shoulder, secretly wishing that it would FULLY erupt. He feels if it did, his mother would have no excuse but to move back in with her ex-husband, and finally be reunited with his brother Ryu (Koki’s real life brother Ohshirô Maeda).
A new bullet train fleet has been unveiled in the region, and the fancy takes him that if he were to be present when the first two trains pass, and wished hard enough, his wish might be granted. Veteran director Hirokazu Koreeda spent time with his young principal cast during the development of the screenplay, and it really shows. The micro-interactions and general tomfoolery of the handful of pre-teens is truly convincing, reminiscent of the interplay between the leads in STAND BY ME.
…it’s a particularly silly shame when the BBFC denies access to what seems to be the film’s target demographic.
Bizarrely, for a children’s film with no ostensible sex, violence, foul language or drug taking, this film got a 15 rating in the UK (PG or its equivalent in the rest of the world). Possibly because the grandfather character smokes. It’s arguably a hard sell to a modern young ‘un to check out foreign cinema, but it’s a particularly silly shame when the BBFC denies access to what seems to be the film’s target demographic.
Koichi’s wheeze, to sneak off to see the bullet train with a few friends, meeting up with his brother on the way, takes us through some beautiful scenery, and we’re treated to a lot of panoramic shots of his sprawling hillside town, and the various other locations along the pilgrimage. Thankfully, less time is spent watching anxious parents wring their hands worrying where their kids are, and more time is spent on the joyful odyssey.
At one point in the film, the boys’ grandfather (Isao Hashizume) has Koichi try his latest cake recipe. Koichi reports that “The sweetness is faint”. His grandfather returns that perhaps the word he is looking for is “mellow”. A greater description for this charming, if a little over-long film, I could not fathom.