You know that mathematics problem with the two trains travelling towards each other? What if they were Bullet Trains and the power generated by them passing each other was enough to grant a wish on those who witness it? Sounds stupid? Well, here is a two-hour movie about it.
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Brothers Kohichi and Ryu have been living pretty much on opposite ends of Japan for the past six months. Their parents had gotten divorced and their mother, Nozomi, went back to live with her parents. Older brother Kohichi decided to go with her, but has come to regret having to live in some small nowhere town and enduring the ash from a volcano that he fears could erupt at any time. Ryu lives in the city of Osaka with their father, Kenji, a lazy, somewhat absentminded guitarist who can make his lively son seem almost mature.
The two boys talk on the phone quite a bit, though it is clear that their lives have already diverged. Kohichi misses the days when the four of them were a family, growing fed up with having to witness Nozomi struggling to find a job that will not humiliate her in front of former friends (and ultimately taking the job at the supermarket that she had dreaded) and his grandfather trying to maintain his failing karukan cake business before retirement. Ryu, on the other hand, seems to enjoy being the loudest person in the house these days and no longer having to deal with Nozomiâ€™s tirades over Kenji not finding proper work.
Nozumiâ€™s town is abuzz that the Bullet Train will be coming soon. While her father and his friends he discuss whether he should incorporate a bullet train theme into his karukan cake, Kohichiâ€™s friends discuss the wish-granting properties of two fast-moving trains passing each other. Kohichi, as you would expect, wishes that the volcano would erupt and destroy the town so that he and his mother would no longer need to stay in this townâ€¦and maybe move back to Osaka. He tells Ryu about this and sort of pressures his younger brother into wanting to wish for the same thingâ€¦minus the actual volcano thing. This talk about wishes and Bullet Trains is pretty much just a way for the brothers and their respective friends to pass the timeâ€¦until it isnâ€™t.
Amongst other things, this movie is about when children get wrapped up in something that they know that shouldnâ€™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. Kohichi notices his mother and grandfather coping or failing to cope with thwarted dreams and dwindling hope. Ryuâ€™s friends deal with disappointing parents who 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 need to believe it, if only to justify the increasing level of effort that it takes 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, so it takes its time with everything and everyone. The characters do not even start planning to go to a meeting spot until over halfway through the movie, though they fully commit to it once they get going. The 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. 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. Kohichi is quieter, more introverted, and seemingly more melancholy. He comes across as a bit of a dreamer. Ryu, on the other hand, 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. Kohichiâ€™s proto-emo attitude and Ryuâ€™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, but I will not go into that here.
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 corny, you might like this one.
Next Time: Butterfly (Hong Kong: 2004, approx. 130 minutes).
Time After Next: The Front Line (South Korea: 2011, approx. 135 minutes).
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