Time to celebrate Valentine’s Day with…another movie about divorce.
Uh oh. This movie is leaving Amazon Prime next week. Better get on this one.
Osako Koichi returns to his room after eating breakfast with his mother and grandmother. He looks out his window at the volcano blowing ash all around the city of Kagoshima. Worried about the ash getting into his room, he wipes down everything before leaving for school.
Koichi meets up with two friends, Makoto and Tasuku, who are a little puzzled over why the ash would bother him so much that he would make them late. But Koichi does not understand how everyone can be so calm with the volcano erupting. Makoto says that he should have moved to Fukuoka with his little brother. Fukuoka being 200 kilometers away on the other end of Kyushu Island.
The three get to class, where the teacher is…kind of mean. Anyways, he tells the students to find out about their fathers’ jobs and submit reports. One student notes that Koichi does not have a father, which makes Koichi a little embarrassed. The teacher asks him about it, and Koichi says that he does have one, but that they are living apart for now. The teacher asks if anyone else does not have a father, and tells them to write about their mothers instead. The student next to Koichi whispers to her friend that this is a violation of their privacy. After class, she goes up to Koichi and says that she is going to tell her mother and have the teacher fired.
Once he is done scolding Tasuku for saying that he wants to be a rhinoceros beetle as his future profession, the teacher calls for Koichi. The teacher says that he did not have a father either. He says that Koichi can talk to him anytime for support. Well, that was unexpected.
In the bathroom, Koichi asks Tasuku if he doesn’t want to move back to Tokyo. Tasuku says that Tokyo was not that much fun and his family has moved three times already.
As the afternoon turns dark, Koichi calls his younger brother Ryunosuke. They talk about the Tower of the Sun being under administrative re-evaluation. Does that mean that it will be torn down? Spoiler alert: no, but it has gotten closed down a lot over the years. Anyways, Koichi thinks back to the times when they went to the Tower of the Sun park with their parents; both parents. Ryu reminds him that their parents were always fighting. Koichi counters that Osaka was much better than this ashy dump.
Ryu seems to be having a happier time in Fukuoka, running home from school with his friend, Rento, both wearing their pool towels like they are capes.
Koichi’s grandfather, Shukichi, is watching some TV program about Kyushu getting bullet train service connecting Kagoshima with Fukuoka in a couple months.
Meanwhile, Koichi is having dinner with his mother Nozomi and grandmother Hideko. Hideko is looking through the papers for a job for Nozomi, but there is nothing there. If only Shukichi’s job making karukan cakes paid more to support them all and he were not so close to close to retirement.
Kohchi leaves without eating his cabbage, and sneaks a can of…something…from the fridge. He is about to go to his room when he hears his mother and grandmother talking about Ryu. Hideko reminds Nozomi that she is happy to take in both grandsons. Nozomi says that Ryu had made his decision, but Hideko is sure that he misses his mother after six months apart. Nozomi agrees.
Well, Ryu is eating dinner by himself in a room that looks almost as messy as mine. Where is his father?
Koichi dreams of going on a picnic at the Tower of the Sun with his brother and both parents. Except it seems like construction workers are starting to disassemble the tower and Koichi cannot stop them.
It is the morning, and Ryu multi-tasks by tending to the garden while eating breakfast…which includes a tomato from the garden. Oh, and then he hangs up the laundry…
Ryu skips over the people sleeping in the dining room to wake up his father, Kenji, and tell him to go to work. Eh? Then Ryu gets all of his stuff together and runs off for school. And jeez, he is lively.
In homeroom, Ryu’s two friends Kanna and Megumi overhear another classmate talking about being on TV. Kanna tells Megumi that that probably means that she will not have an acting career, given that the class already has one actress. Megumi is okay with that, since she was not all that serious about it anyways. Ryu reminds them of a pair of actors who were from the same class, but Kanno and Megumi tell him that comedians are different. Well, he tried.
Koichi is bored in science class. Out of nowhere, Tasuku starts whispering to Makoto about the upcoming Bullet Train lines, saying that when a train from Fukuoka going at 160 mph passes on from Kagoshima going at 160 mph, the energy is so intense that those who see it will have their wish come true, like a falling star.
In the…library…the three boys look over a map of the island and the train lines. They figure that the two trains will pass each other in Kumamoto Prefecture. The librarian comes over and says that the horsemeat sashimi is delicious in Kumamoto. She walks off and the three of them leer at her legs. Okay, kids. Knock it off.
Speaking of trains, the three wait at a crossing for two trains to pass each other. The trains kick up dust and dirt all over the place. After the dust clears up, Koichi notices that the woman on the other side has disappeared. She could not have just run off that quickly. Was it time travel?
Kenji and his band are preparing to perform in a club and Ryu is there doing homework. Ryu asks his father what administrative re-evaluation is, saying it is for homework. Kenji tells him that it means calling something waste and cutting it. Ryu asks if mother said that to him. Kenji counters that there is room in this world for wasteful things, that you would choke if everything had meaning. Ryu says that it cannot all be wasteful, but his father ignores him.
Shukichi is hosting a little get-together with three friends, the presence of whom annoys his wife and daughter. They discuss the feasibility of selling karukan cake in this day and age…and whether the bullet train might bring in more customers. And then they get drunk.
As a favor to his grandfather, Koichi goes into the city and purchases some karukan cake from another sweets shop. They go to an observation wheel and each eat a karukan cake. Koichi asks why people live so close to the volcano and put up with all of the ash. Shukichi says that that the eruptions show that the mountain is still alive. Then he says that there are more buildings now that before, and if there really were a big eruption, then everyone would have to move…yeah…that is…sort of Koichi’s point.
Once again, Koichi and Ryu seem to be taking a break from their respective swim lessons to talk on the phone. Koichi really wants the family to get back together, and asks worriedly if their father is dating anyone.
Ryu and his friends go to his house where they and Kenji play with sparklers and fireworks.
Meanwhile, Koichi has a regular old dinner with his mother and grandparents. Nozomi mentions going to a school reunion at a karaoke place. Hideko asks if a former boyfriend will be there, since old love can get rekindled at reunions. This gets Koichi’s attention, though the conversation somehow turns to Ryu and how Nozomi does not want to be the one to take the first step to reach out. Koichi mentions that Ryu tends to the garden, and Hideko worries that this rock band garden may…uh…have…she cannot even say it.
In his room, Koichi paints a picture of an erupting volcano, puts it high up on the wall, and then prays to it. Praying for what? Well, we don’t know yet, but you can probably guess.
After showing a little bit of how Nozomi and her parents spend their days (Nozomi takes a supermarket cashier’s job that she had been reluctant to take due to fear of encountering her friends as customers), the movie goes back to Koichi and his friends. They talk about what their wish would be. Makoto says that he wants to become a baseball player, like Ichiro, which is why he…eats curry for breakfast? Takusu admits that he wants to marry the school librarian. Koichi says that she is too old, as if he had not been looking at her legs as well. Anyways, he says that his wish is for the volcano to erupt so hard that the entire family would have to leave the island and reunite in Osaka. But…doesn’t that mean that they will all die? Koichi suggests that they run away. What about Ryu’s wish? Does he wish for the same thing? Koichi seems to believe so.
Megumi brings Ryu, Kanno, and Rento to her home, above the bar where her mother works. They are also having a meeting to discuss miracles. This amuses Megumi’s mother and her patrons, who start talking about what they would wish for if they believed in such things. Anyways, Kanno wants a return to…uh…this thing, so that she will have no more homework…and she wishes to be able to paint beautiful pictures effortlessly. Rento wants…more Beyblade toys and to become the best Blader in the world. Megumi admits that she wants to defeat her acting rival Yuna, even though Yuna is nice. It turns out that Megumi’s mother had been an actress, but quit, perhaps because of having to raise Megumi. Ryu…wants to be Kamen Rider. But…he also wants to drive a super car. When asked what his brother wants, Ryu says that Koichi wants to reunite the family. The other three are surprised when Ryu says that he does not share that wish.
I guess that Ryu flashes back to a time when Kenji tells the family at dinner that he quit his job. Nozomi gets angry at him, and throws food at him. Koichi tries to get her to stop, while Ryu takes his dinner elsewhere. Yeah, he tells his friends that he doesn’t want any more of that.
Well, they still have some time before the bullet train lines are set up to work all of this out.
This is a movie by renown director, producer, screenwriter, and editor Kore-eda Hirokazu. So far, I have seen five other movies besides this one and…to be honest, this is the only one that did not leave me bored and cold. Granted, this one is in the same general style as the other ones that I saw, so maybe I was just not in the mood for those movies the five times that I saw them. I have not quite given up on his movies, primarily because I liked this one so much.
Amongst other things, this movie is about when children get wrapped up in something that they know that shouldn’t believe in. Sometimes it is because their friends believe it, but sometimes it is because they want something to believe in aside from what they see every day. Koichi notices his mother and grandparents coping or failing to cope with thwarted dreams and dwindling hope. Ryu and his friends deal with disappointing parents whose lives seem to promise little more than a future of bitter boredom. Despite constantly casting doubt over the veracity of this myth, the kids gradually take more stock in it until they all decide to find a meeting spot where they can make their wishes while watching two Bullet Trains passing each other. They not so much believe it as much as they believe that they need to believe it, if only to justify the increasing level of effort that it may take to reach the trains.
I suppose that a more conventional Hollywood movie would bring up this myth early on in the film, have the two brothers almost immediately plan on meeting up, make their wishes, and show their wishes come true. Well, this is not a Hollywood movie. This is kind of a Japanese slice-of-life movie. It is a Kore-eda movie. So it takes its time with everything and everyone. The characters do not even start planning to go to a meeting spot until just over halfway through.
The movie’s first hour puts the audience into the two separate worlds of the brothers and shows their daily lives apart. They may not be completely different, but there is a clear separation. There are frequent digressions to other characters, like Nozumi and her father. The friends of the brothers also each get some time to shine individually, hinting at bigger storylines and providing basis for their actions later on. Especially Megumi. There is a hint of sadness to all of this, even as the movie remains rather light and warm. The movie is less about whether the myth is real than it is about the reason why these characters have to make themselves believe in it.
The stars of the movie are most definitely the brothers, played by actual brothers. Much of the movie and the story was, apparently, based around the behavior and personalities of these two kids. It is unclear exactly how much of the personalities of the brothers are affected by the divorce and separation, but they are quite distinct. Koichi is quieter, more introverted, and seemingly more melancholy. He comes across as a bit of a dreamer. And with his dreams not coming true, his moodiness seems like seriousness. He finds being a child of divorce shameful. His wish to reunite the family not only dismisses the reasons for the split, but would destroy an entire city…if not an island. It is totally selfish as well as unreasonable. Ryu is almost all smiles and frequently speaks at a level just below yelling. He portrays a sense of precocious practicality that gets punctured by his occasional bouts of childlike whimsy, although he tends to be self-aware of the whimsy. He is okay with the status quo, which allows him to be happy with how things are. Regardless with how he feels about being the child of divorce, he feels like the pre-divorce era was worse. Koichi’s proto-emo attitude and Ryu’s not-quite Disney Channel sitcom behavior could both get grating, yet they do not. Not to me, at least. They just seem like real kids working with child logic, child wisdom, and child curiosity. And they anchor the story. There is a bit of symbolism of their being far apart and briefly coming together to see two trains do the same thing for an even briefer time, but I will not go into that here.
The mindsets of the brothers do seem to reflect those of their parents and grandparents, though in different ways. Kenji and Ryu seem to be resigned to how things are and are kind of okay with it, seeing alternatives as too risky. Yet, for all of his childishness, Ryu does not seem to have his head in the clouds compared to his father in terms of taking responsibility for things. Ryu does seem to have somewhat of a more practical way of looking at things, closer to his mother and grandmother, even if no one really recognizes it. Meanwhile, Koichi’s negative attitudes seem to mirror his mother and his grandfather. But even those two are different. Shukichi, like Koichi, is pinning his hopes upon the Bullet Train to make their lives better, not really acknowledging how the changing times have resulted in how things are and refusing to compromise on their dreams. Nozomi, however, is able swallow her pride and get a job at the supermarket, working for the money and finding small bits of joy elsewhere.
One thing that I am not sure was necessarily deliberate was how Koichi’s friends were both boys, while Ryu had girls among his friend group. Now, sure, Koichi is older, but I got the impression that Ryu’s friends who were girls were closer to Koichi’s age than to Ryu’s age. It may be for the best, given Takusu’s growing urges. Yeah, I don’t really have anything to say regarding that.
There are many other adults in this movie, some have notable roles and others very small. Sometimes, the level of happiness and hope in their lives when interacting with the children tend to affect those interactions. Sometimes. Some help. Some need to be maneuvered around. Some of them know about this whole train miracle thing; others do not. There are even a couple of characters who indulge the children for no emotional gain aside from remembering their own past.
This is a quiet film about what it means to be a child, trying to make sense of a world that even the adults do not seem to understand. While there is a hint of melancholy throughout the movie, it is a very heartwarming film. So, if you want to watch something that is happy without being too corny, you might like this one.
WTF ASIA 200: Gone with the Light (China: 2019, approx. 131 minutes)
WTF ASIA 201: Space Sweepers (South Korea: 2021, approx. 138 minutes)