The following film review was originally written for our We've Been Watching... feature, it has been edited slightly to fit our Blu-ray Review template.
After splashing out into more adult territory in his 2009 parable about a blow-up doll magically coming to life in Air Doll, Hirokazu Koreeda returns back to more Ozu-esque family fare with his latest feature: I Wish. It’s one of those films for which the word ‘charming’ gets overused, but not inappropriately so. It tells the story of two brothers living at opposite ends of the southern island of Kyushu after their parents’ marriage implodes. The wistful older brother: Koichi has moved with his mother to her hometown in the southern city of Kagoshima, where he spends most of his time dreaming of getting the family back together (to the point where he even invites a natural disaster to force them out of the city), while the easy-going younger brother: Ryunosuke has opted to stay with his father in Fukuoka on the northern tip of the island, where he dreams of new vegetables to plant in his garden.
It’s not long before Koichi uses his elder-brother influence to coax Ryu into a plan to reunite the family, but with no real method of achieving this he latches on to a rumour about the new Bullet Train line that has recently opened across the island. This rumour suggests that at the point in the route that the outgoing train catches the oncoming train, the resulting speed difference will allow a miracle to happen, so the brothers (along with their closest friends) arrange a journey to meet in the heart of the island where they can witness this occurrence and make a collective wish to bring their parents back together.
Koreeda’s documentary roots always shine through in his films and for the most part I Wish features a dual narrative that immerses the viewer completely in each brother’s day-to-day lives in a very authentic way. Many scenes are clearly improvised and they feature a colourful ensemble of characters all brought convincingly to live by a pretty young cast with seasoned support from veterans like Yoshio Harada and Abe Hiroshi. The two leads are played by real life brothers: Koki & Oshirô Maeda and they’re pretty exceptional (Koreeda chose to tailored his script to the young cast after spending enough time on set with them).
Each narrative has a contrasting theme: The elder Koichi is more of a realist but he has this idealistic dream of reuniting his parents, whereas the younger Ryu is an idealist who has a more realistic viewpoint that life is less stressful now that he doesn’t have to sit through his feuding parents arguments all the time, and a breezy feel-good factor is wrought from the simple differences in both the brother’s day-to-day attitudes & that of their friends. The end result is a film that plays to Koreeda’s strengths and offers a more optimistic, sentimental counterpoint to his 2004 hit Nobody Knows.
PresentationEvery now and then you come across a release on home video that doesn't quite end up looking the way you think it would, having owned a number of Koreeda's early films on DVD and one of his more recent works: Still Walking on Criterion BD, I was fully expecting I Wish to look pretty uncontroversial in High-definiton, but in actuality it seems to be plagued by one (or maybe two) video "hiccups" (for want of a better term) that affect some rather specific aspects of the transfer.
In short, many of the films long shots seem to exhibit a certain blurriness that makes them look unfocused, peer a little closer though and you will see a strange "ringing" (or perhaps smudginess?) where the outlines of people and objects have a visible halo around them. Accompanying this (whether it's linked to the same issue or just another independent glitch) is a more overt form of smudging that affects mostly areas of high contrast - so for instance white on black background appears to have been smudged across the screen, causing a small trail or streak.
I've included two screengrabs below that highlight the issue, in the first you can clearly see how generally blurry the shot looks (similar shots to these are perfectly focused on the Criterion release of Still Walking, which shares the same DP and filming methods as I Wish) and if you focus on Yoshio Harada you can see the haloing effect, although it's perhaps most noticeable above the yellow road banner in the centre of the frame. The second grab shows the film's credits, which clearly suffer from horizontal streaking (also found in the production cards at the start of the film).
So should we all march down to Arrow's offices today and demand a reissue? Well, no, it's not really Arrow's fault at all; I've done the research here and managed to sniff out screenshots from both the HK and Japanese Blu-ray releases of the film (not to mention the HD trailers for the US release from Magnolia) and they all exhibit the same problem. What's more, the people at Arrow have been very helpful, both in contacting the authoring company and in double checking their masters and comparing them to their digital cinema print.
The authoring house suggest that it may be an issue linked to the production, chiefly the anamorphic lenses employed by Yutaka Yamasaki in shooting the film, or possibly the effect of optical work undertaken on certain shots. David Mackenzie, an old friend and contributor to the site has further theorised that perhaps the film was sharpened in post, but only in the vertical axis. Whatever the reason, the result is that I Wish doesn't look quite as good in HD as Koreeda's earlier works, but you can't blame Arrow for that.
With that aside, this 1080p AVC presentation looks pretty solid, offering a decent amount of detail in close-ups (and various other long shots) and featuring a pretty balanced and natural looking colour scheme. Contrast too is naturalistic, but brightness (as we often see with Arrow releases) is perhaps just a fraction high, which does mute the colours a tiny bit and also renders shadows a little shallow (often you can make out noise in areas that should be enveloped in shadow.
Perhaps the only real black mark I can give this release is that it generally looks over-compressed. We're looking at a 128minute film that takes up 26GB of this BD-50 disc with an average video bitrate of 23.99Mbps, which in my opinion seems a little anaemic, and you can see this in the amount of compression noise present in the image (compared to say, the Japanese Blu-ray release), not to mention the rather hazy rendering of the film grain. This is the sort of issue that looks worse in screenshots than motion though, so I'm happy to give this transfer a solid 6/10.
A solitary Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master track provides the audio, but I think the original audio probably should be stereo, so this is probably an upmix and as such the bass channel doesn't really have much depth to it, but all other aspects of the audio sound great, the mix is very natural and offers strong dynamics and clear audible dialogue throughout. Rear channels are only used for ambient effects and one or two sweeping train whooshes. Optional English subtitles are included with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.
ExtrasNot much to offer here, just a reasonably lengthy featurette featuring interviews with the cast & crew and the trailer knocked up by Arrow to promote the UK release. Here's the rundown:
What Would Your Wish Be? (40m:42s, 16:9 1080/24p AVC, Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0)
This featurette basically edits together a series of interviews conducted during the film's production in February 2011, some stars are filmed on location, others are interviewed in a production room tucked away somewhere near filming I suppose. As the title would suggest, it starts off asking each cast member what wish they would make if given the chance (and a few brown-nosers craftily ask to work with Koreeda again), before settling into a more standard cast & director Q&A session. I can't say it's massively entertaining or informative TBH, only the session with Koreeda at the end is really worth the time, but we do learn that he reworked the story to the film after seeing the Maeda brothers performing their manzai comedy routine. Optional English subtitles are included.
UK Trailer (01m:53s, 16:9 1080/24p AVC, Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0)
Everything is self apparent here, except the English subtitles are burnt in and the transfer is extremely dark and high contrast, so the quality isn't great.