Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish, the Anime Feature on BluRay

It is highly unlikely we will wake up to find this film is an Oscar nominee, even though it is fully qualified as an animated feature. However, of the two remakes of the 2003 Japanese film (itself based on Seiko Tanabe’s children’s book) produced in 2020, this film has had a much higher North American profile than its live-action Korean competition. Instead of mecha, the anime drama revolves around teenage insecurities and understanding physical differences in Kotaro Tamura’s Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish, which releases today on BluRay/DVD.

Tsuneo Suzukawa is a dirt-poor, hardworking marine biology student who harbors ambitions of attending an expensive summer program in Mexico, to study a rare breed of tropical fish that always fascinated him. It sort of seems like good fortune when Chizu Yamamura hires him to be a companion-helper to her wheelchair-bound granddaughter Kumiko, except for her demanding personality. She prefers to be called “Josee” and has real artistic talent, but she treats him like a rented mule.

Of course, that means she is really in love with him and he feels the same about her, but neither can admit it to themselves or each other. They might lose their chance when serious hard times come around. (By the way, she will eventually draw a tiger rife with symbolic significance, if you were wondering about the rest of the title.)

Josee etc.
follows in the tradition of A Silent Voice’s heartfelt teen drama and sensitive handling of physical ability issues, but it is not nearly as adroit at handling either. Sayaka Kuwamura’s adaptation of Tanabe means achingly well, but it lays on the angst with a trowel. While Voice pulls the audience in and makes them care, JTF often leaves us feeling manipulated.

Still, the characters of Suzukawa and the Yamamuras are fully developed and quite credible. Tamura and the animators also create some gorgeous looking Tokyo backdrops. Watching
Josee et al will make viewers want to visit and maybe even wish they had gone to school there. Fans of anime music will also be over-the-moon for Evan Call’s upbeat and sentimental-in-the-right-way songs—they are exceedingly catchy.

It always nice to see a film that respects teens and their struggles, especially those who aren’t well-heeled (like the annoying
90210 kids). Frankly, you find these kinds of young characters more often in anime than in Hollywood studio animation. This is another pertinent example, but unfortunately, the execution is a little too heavy-handed. Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish earns respect, but highly mixed feelings and a decidedly mixed review when it releases today (2/8) on BluRay/DVD.