At a quiet moment in Hirokazu Kore-eda's winsome drama about two brothers separated by their parents' divorce, the boys' grandfather serves them traditional home-baked cakes made of yam and sugar. The brothers are underwhelmed at first by their subtle taste, but after a few thoughtful chews, one concludes, "This mellow flavor is growing on me." Pointedly evoking Ozu's The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, the line also serves as an embedded defense of the film itself, which is easy to mistake as a mere trifle.
The flavor of I Wish does take a while to grow on you, although the problem is less its subtlety than its sweetness. Originally commissioned by Japanese Railways, whose Shinkansen bullet train serves as a conduit between the brothers, the film verges at times on fluff, its promotional origins showing less in overt proselytizing than in its unvarying feel-good tone. But there's ample variation within that narrow scope as long as your instrument is properly calibrated. I Wish is a film of small and fleeting pleasures, passing, like a high-speed train, at a pace that is imperceptible from the inside and a blink of the eye to observers on the sidelines.
The brothers scheme to reunite, eventually settling on a superstition that any wish will be granted if made at the precise moment that two bullet trains pass each other. As they live at opposite ends of the line, both set out for its geographical midpoint, trying to fix a fleeting instant in time. As in Kore-eda's more pensive, and much richer, Still Walking, a sense of melancholy and even mortality waits perpetually in the wings, impinging on the children in ways they're too young to contemplate. They know, at least, that their childhood is running out, ending as slowly as their parents' marriage ended abruptly, and they don't want their lives to run on separate tracks. I Wish provides a provisional happy ending to the brothers' quest, but not far under its surface is a sense that life's flavors, the keen as well as the faint, must always be savored quickly, lest they pass away for good.