Lighthearted but profound Japanese family drama about two young brothers forced to live apart after the separation of their parents. The more sensitive Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives with his mother and grandparents in Kagoshima under the shadow of the active Sakurajima volcano, while the happy-go-lucky Ryu (Ohshirô Maeda) has remained in Fukuoka with their slacker musician father. Koichi longs for them to be reunited and when he hears of a magical rumour that when two super-fast Bullet trains pass each other they create enough cosmic energy to grant your wish, he and his friends set out to put things back the way they were.
The suburban tale of a troubled family told with a touch of fantasy and adventure draws obvious parallels with Spielberg, and it is more than worthy of the comparison. Director Hirokazu Koreeda elicits two incredibly natural performances from the boys (real life brothers) and indeed all of the young cast – in the scenes where they're hanging out he has seemingly turned the camera on some local school friends, their relationships seem so genuine. Koichi and Ryu's story is interspersed with those of their friends and family, all of whom have their own struggles and aspirations. Be it their grandfather's desire to bake a successful sponge cake, or Koichi's friend's dream of marrying the beautiful school librarian, every character – no matter how minor – is portrayed as a real person with their own hopes and fears. As a result it is constantly engrossing, establishing an affinity with everyone on screen and also allowing some fantastically warm funny moments to emerge from the characters themselves. Despite its concentration on character over narrative, and its general unpredictability, the film still has a mainstream tone and is more than capable of cultivating a wide, varied audience.
A quiet natural film that avoids obvious melodrama and sentimentality, it retains a thoughtful depth about what it is to dream and hope for that which is just out of reach. As is often the case with the most affecting cinema its power lies in what the viewer brings to it from their own lives, and how much they are willing to invest in the film. With no obvious moral or message, it has the potential to be interpreted in many ways. A philosophical yet thoroughly accessible film that effortlessly gets under the skin.