Japanese brothers Koichi and Ryunosuke (real-life siblings Koki and Ohshirô Maeda) are worlds apart. Not literal worlds: Both boys, who mostly communicate via cell phone, live on the same island—Kyushu—but in separate cities with different parents, the result of divorce. Hirokazu Koreeda’s pleasingly paper-thin dramedy spends much of its first half sketching the disparate lives of the young duo, and of several others around them, in ways that alternate between poetic (Koichi’s teacher pats him on the shoulder with equal parts concern and condescension) and tedious (a cloyingly padded-out plotline about an introverted young girl who wants to be an actor). It’s an uneasy mix of keen verisimilitude and phony uplift—sort of the best of Ozu melded with the worst of Spielberg.
Fortunately, the film improves immeasurably after Koichi and Ryunosuke hatch a family-reuniting plan that involves making a wish at the exact point when two bullet trains pass each other. With a clear goal in sight, the movie suddenly takes on an engrossing urgency. Shots of the kids and their friends running around unfamiliar environments have the fantastical qualities of Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, minus the forced whimsy. And the quest builds to a beautifully knotty resolution that makes you wish Koreeda had found a way to completely excise the earlier mawkishness.
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