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Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me by Funimation. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you, Funimation.
Funimation was always an odd one when it came to foreign animated film distribution. Even when they were the original distributors of Mamoru Hosoda and some of Makoto Shinkai’s films, they were never doing enough to get in the nominee circles, unlike GKids and Shout! Factory. They could have some of the most financially successful and acclaimed films and still not get nominated. Films like Your Name and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train are successful as all get out, but they are still just successful among that scene in the film industry. It’s a shame because after getting acclaim from Your Name, their focus went more toward distributing anime series. They brought over the occasional film, but they either weren’t big hits or were based on a hit franchise. GKids took the crown of “Got an animated film from Japan? We will probably distribute it”. Maybe it’s because they were bought by Sony, but they recently have started picking up films again, and films that aren’t even attached to any major franchises! These include the hour-long Stranger By The Shore, and today’s review, Josee, The Tiger, and the Fish.
Directed by Kotaro Kamura, based on the short story by Seiko Tanabe, written by Sayaka Kuwamira and produced by Bones Inc, this animated film was released back in October 2020 in Japan and then competed in June 2021 at the Annecy Film Festival, which got beat out by Flee. Luckily, during the Annecy Film Festival, Funimation picked up the rights and gave it an, unfortunately, limited release, but I’m sure at some point you will all be able to watch it. So, was it worth waiting a year for this film? I mean, you can read the review to find out.
Our story revolves around a young man in college named Tsuneo Suzukawa, dubbed by Howard Wang. He is a college student who works part-time jobs to get enough money to try and study overseas in Mexico. One evening, he ends up saving the life of a young woman named Kumiko Yamamura aka Josee, dubbed by Suzie Yeung, who was pushed in her wheelchair down a hill, and Tsuneo ends up catching her. While making his way back to Josee and her grandmother’s place, he decides to take the grandmother’s offer to be Josee’s caretaker. It doesn’t start well with Josee being tedious to work with, but will Tsuneo find out that there is more to his life with taking care of and bonding with Josee? Will Josee find a new spark and love for life?
When you look at the film and this premise, you dread that it’s going to be one of those films. You know the ones, right? These are the romance films that deal with an able-bodied lead who falls for someone who is either handicapped or has some deadly illness that milks the misery and sadness of the situation. It turns what should be a dramatic story into one that ends up coming off unintentionally hilarious or more mean-spirited with how melodramatic the overall story develops. It’s either that or the person with the handicap or sickness is there to help elevate the bland, boring, able-bodied protagonist in order to find his spark in life. These films tend to come out either during award season or come out during dryer times of the film year. Sometimes you get one that changes the formula around, but most of the time, they are very paint-by-number experiences. What does this film do differently then? Well, it has a good story, likable characters, emotional and realistic themes, and beautiful animation. Unlike many films in this genre, the real strength of the story does lie in its two main characters. You understand why Josee is so aggressive and snappy at strangers due to how the world around her has treated her, which shines a light on how some people treat others who have disabilities. You also understand Tsuneo’s drive and forgetting everything around him when you get into that one-track mindset. Instead of one character lifting the other, both of our leads help each other out. This is such a great element to the story, because otherwise, by a lesser writer or director, Josee would be the prop that helps support Tsuneo get to his dreams, while Josee either accepts her place in life or in some cases of those terrible films, dies. Josee herself is a realized character who loves art, and you understand her attitude toward everyone when she’s been cooped up in her grandmother’s house. Weird how you make a more compelling story when you have a romance where both characters have agency. It talks a lot about reaching for your dreams and how you can help one another to get to them. The story can be a bit melodramatic at points, as it’s expected from anime, but it never quite took me out of the experience like a lot of romance animated features. While some of the dialogue can be a bit much, with some lines reinforcing a somewhat toxic mindset, much of the dialogue flowed well, and the film could be very funny.
What helps elevate the beauty and emotional core of the film is the animation by Bones Inc. For those that are not aware, Bones Inc is the studio behind the acclaimed My Hero Academia series, SK8: The Infinity, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, Space Dandy, Mob Psycho 100, Carole & Tuesday, and the recently released Godzilla: Singular Point and The Case Study of Vanitas. They also have done work on films like Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and Sword of the Stranger. This is a gorgeous movie with drop-dead gorgeous coloring, movements, and a pretty fantastic combination of CGI and 2D elements that don’t stand out. The animators are even able to let the characters have cartoony reactions to certain lines and story beats, which is great since it shows that they are willing to break the character designs to help the characters emote a bit more for jokes, and reactions. They even let the story become fantastical with an incredible sequence where Josee becomes a mermaid with her mermaid half formed from her dress. and it’s such a creative touch that gives the film a lot of charm. The voice cast is also pretty good with an English dub that includes Howard Wang, Suzie Yeung, Dani Chambers, and Zeno Robinson to name a few of the talent behind the characters. They do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life, and I enjoyed their performances. The music is beautiful, atmospheric, and fantastical with a soundtrack composed by Evan Call, who composed the music for the incredible Violet Evergarden series. It reminds me of a lot of Kensuke Ushio’s work from A Silent Voice.
As much as I love and want to rave and cheer about this whole movie, I do have some very minor complaints. As I said previously, it can be a touch melodramatic, and that’s true within the film’s third act where a love triangle angle is thrown in when it wasn’t a thing throughout the entire movie. It felt like it was put there to ignite the third act resolution, and while I get that, it would have been more powerful, at least to me, if Josee made the decision herself and not because another character who was secondary to the plot decided to light the fire under her feet. I know it’s anime, and anime is known for big dramatic speeches and interactions, but they tend to be too much at points. Josee, while believable and likable as a character, does begin a bit rough around the edges. It takes awhile for her to come out of her shell, but the first few minutes are too much at points.
Still, even with those criticisms, I loved Josee, The Tiger, and the Fish. It’s in my top five favorite animated films of 2021 so far, and it shows how strong of a year 2021 has become when studios are willing to release movies for people to watch. I mean, I know the pandemic was a thing, but still. Sadly, by the time this review comes up, it will have already gone through its limited release, but if you can find a way to watch it and support the official release of the film, do so! Now then, next time I’ll talk about the new Netflix animated feature from Japan, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop.
Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!