I Wish

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
I Wish Movie Poster Image
Unique, leisurely subtitled film about parental separation.
  • PG
  • 2011
  • 128 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Through action and discussion, the importance of believing in your dreams is shown.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Koichi is a sweet, playful, and imaginative boy who's trying to come to grips with his parents' separation and his father and younger brother living in another city.


A young boy yells, "He really pisses me off!"


A Marlboro cigarette vending machine is prominently featured in one scene.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Older adult male characters are shown getting intoxicated in a kitchen as they yell and sing. The mother is shown drinking and calling her young son on the telephone; her son is living with his father in another town. The father smokes cigarettes. A grandmother makes reference to smoking marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Wish is a 2011 Japanese film about an imaginative young boy who sees the creation of a new bullet train as a chance for himself, his brother, and his friends to make wishes, including a wish that his separated parents get back together. Although it's a beautifully filmed movie with heartfelt characters with whom parents and kids can identify, the film's pacing -- it's over two hours -- and the English subtitles taken from the spoken Japanese might make this one difficult for younger viewers and viewers looking for something more immediate and faster paced. The theme of parents and their two children going through a separation and likely divorce -- although shown in a realistic manner -- also might be difficult for some children. Still, although the sensibility and style of this movie are definitely rooted in Japanese culture, the behavior of the kids is so universal, and the quality of the movie is so undeniable, that patient viewers will be rewarded with a worthwhile, unforgettable story.

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What's the story?

Koichi is a 12-year-old Japanese boy going to school in a town he does not like. His parents are separated; although he lives with his mother and grandparents, his brother Ryu lives with his slacker musician father in another town. As this is happening, the talk around him is of a new bullet train system that is almost ready to begin. Koichi begins to believe that if he wishes for his family to be together once more at the point where the two bullet trains pass each other at their highest speeds, this wish will come true. He convinces his friends and his brother to believe in this idea, too, and together they sneak away from their homes and embark on a journey to the bullet train in the hopes of making their deepest wishes come true.

Is it any good?

Although it's slow-paced at times, I WISH is a beautiful film, a meditation on wishes, yearning, and belief. The acting from the children transcends the Japanese setting; the behavior of their characters is so universal that both parents and kids from other cultures will find aspects with which to identify. The themes of separation and divorce, of adults trying to follow their dreams, and of earnest desires of imaginative children are frankly explored through the ideas of both adults and children, and the result is as unforgettable as it is bittersweet.

The film's leisurely pace and subtitles might be problematic for some viewers, but there really hasn't ever been a movie quite like I Wish. It's a lovely coming-of-age story that will resonate with the whole family.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's Japanese roots. In what ways was the film universal, and in what ways was it uniquely Japanese? How would this movie be different if it were remade in an American (or any other country's) setting?

  • What are your thoughts on subtitles in movies? Do they add to or take away from the viewing experience? Why?

  • How is the issue of divorce and separation treated in this movie? Do you think it is a realistic depiction?

Movie details

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Themes & Topics

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