"I Wish," written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda and starring real-life brothers Koki Maeda and Ohshiro Maeda as brothers, is a magical film about preteen childhood, set in Japan. It is playing at the Seattle's Varsity.

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It’s rare to see a movie that truly captures preteen children, letting them simply be themselves before a camera, reminding us of the innocence and exuberance and fear and joy they exude before adolescent self-consciousness takes over. Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda did it previously — very sadly — with the haunting “Nobody Knows,” and his new film, “I Wish,” is a wistful but more hopeful take on childhood. You watch it remembering the days when you should have walked but simply had to run, and when you believed that, if you wished hard enough, your dead pet just might come back again.

At the center of “I Wish” is a pair of brothers: 12-year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda), who lives with his mother and grandparents in the southern region of Kyushu, Japan; and his younger brother Ryunosuke, called Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda, Koki’s real-life brother), who lives with their musician father in northern Kyushu. Their parents are unhappily divorced, and Koichi, a quiet boy who often carries unhappiness on his shoulders like a backpack, dreams of reuniting the family again. The sunnier Ryu has less realistic goals: He’d like to be his favorite TV star. (“I like him, so I want to try being him,” Ryu says, in perfect kid logic.) Meanwhile, a bullet train is being developed between their two towns, and Koichi begins to imagine that, at the moment the first trains pass each other, a wish will be granted. Like the trains, these two halves of a family are moving in different directions; perhaps a miracle will make them one.

As Koichi and his school friends plan a clandestine trip to the spot where the trains will meet (selling toys to secretly raise train fare), with Ryu and his gang joining them, “I Wish” becomes a charming, touching exploration of children and their dreams.

“I wish I could paint beautiful pictures without working hard at it,” a girl says; a boy says he’d like to marry the school’s pretty librarian; a girl yearns to be an actress; a boy hopes that his puppy Marble might run and bark again. They make a colorful poster with their wishes painted on it; they approach the train shrieking their wishes into the wind. Though we know that trains don’t grant wishes, Kore-eda’s mastery gets us caught up in the moment: We hope for a miracle, and we get one — but of the cinematic kind, in which we’re carried away as if on that train; transformed, just for a moment, into a child again.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com