When I reviewed Netflix’s Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, I stated it was the latest in a recent lineup of teen romance anime films and since Hollywood’s idea of the modern romcom is pretty much dead, these films serve as a nice substitute. However, as lovely and well-animated as these features are, they tend to follow a similar boy-meets-girl narrative, albeit done in a different packaging. So, is Josee, the Tiger and the Fish a welcoming package?
Based on the 1985 Seiko Tanabe-penned short story of the same name which was previously adapted into a live-action film in 2003, this anime film centers on Tsuneo Suzukawa, who loves the sea and dreams of scuba diving in Mexico while studying abroad there. Participating in part-time jobs to finance his dream, he is suddenly thrown into a new job being the caretaker to a socially-isolated paraplegic woman named Kumiko, who prefers to be called “Josee” and lives alone with her overprotective grandmother.
From its initial minutes that establish the workaholic young man and his sudden encounter with the eponymous Josee, who initially dislikes him, you can see the mechanics of where the story is going from melodramatic conventions that are familiar to those who are well-versed in this particular type of anime. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as despite the typical boy-meets-girl scenario that you associate with romcoms, in which the two leads don’t get along initially, the chemistry between Tsuneo and Josee is so sweet and humorous that you wish for no bad things to come towards them, even though they eventually do.
What sets this story apart from others from a thematic standpoint is its depiction of the clash between dreams and reality. Although we know Tsuneo has a dream he wants to achieve, Josee has lived a life in self-isolation due to a disability that she’s had since birth and her grandmother has not been helpful in getting her out of the house. The outside world is not built for Josee. There are numerous obstacles she has to face, whether it is socializing with others or actually growing up, and she has dreams of her own. The central relationship has obstacles, some of which do feel forced, such as setting up the parallels between the two leads and somewhat relearning the same lessons, but the hardship ends up being worth it for a truly emotional resolution.
From Bones, the studio behind the likes of My Hero Academia and Mob Psycho 100, this marks the directorial film debut from Kôtarô Tamura, who presents a striking piece of Japanese animation from the way it illustrates illumination to how sparkly the sea is upon Josee’s first sighting. Despite the story being a grounded one, the most striking sequence is a flight of fancy in which Josee dreams of being a mermaid swimming through a city that is underwater, which may be a bit on the nose but is thematically appropriate for what binds the shared interests of both her and Tsuneo.
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