People like movies that let them flow with time till the end, the kind that makes them overflow with emotions. Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is just the type of movie. Its pockets are filled with old-school romantic cliches, but then again, it is based on a 1984 short story by Seiko Tanabe after all. However, the screenplay from Sayaka Kuwamara modernizes the story and sets it in 21st century Japan. The movie premiered in Japanese theatres in December 2020. As of July 2021, the movie has been released to the audience overseas. The movie’s animation is a product of studio Bones and has been directed by Kotaro Tamura. Evan Call composes the film’s music, who also composed the music of the popular anime Violet Evergarden. Shochiku and Kadokawa distributed the film in theatres.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is not a genius anime. Neither is it an anime that will stun you. But, the movie will touch your emotions, and it will help you grow out of a shell. Even more so, the movie will make you want to fall in love and cherish someone dearly. Some events are blatantly predictable, but they will still steal your heart, almost as if every scene is bind with some spell. The movie also uses literary tools, especially metaphorical, hidden throughout and very appealing ones at that. Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is more than just a romantic movie, and it feels unfair to label it as so. It is about growth and overcoming your fear despite whatever holds you back.
The movie’s review is probably not going to be easy, but I must attempt it because I’m flooded with feelings I know no other way to express.
**Spoiler Alert: The review is not spoiler-free!**
Plot: Josee, the Tiger and the Fish
College student, Tsuneo Suzukawa finds peace in diving. Swimming with schools of fish is probably the only thing he has loved. He dreams of going to Mexico to attend University for the sole purpose of seeing a fish called Clarion Angel. By a stroke of fate, he meets Kumiko, who prefers being called Josee. Dependent on a wheelchair since birth, Josee is anti-social and has a sharp tongue. But more so, she has been kept away from the world by her protective grandmother, the only living family she has, saying that the world is filled with scary beasts. Her grandmother hires Tsuneo to look after her, and he agrees to since it was good pay and he wanted to save up for his University abroad.
The two have a rough start, with Josee’s tough personality, especially. When Josee runs away one afternoon in her curiosity to see the world, Tsuneo takes the first look into her, which looked much like a mermaid’s cave filled with beautiful illustrations of Paris, New York, and the sea from the perspective of someone who had never seen what’s outside. He goes looking for her, strictly ordered by her grandmother to bring her back instantly. He sees Josee for who she was, a keen girl who wanted to watch the sea. Tsuneo takes her to the sea, and then they decide to sneak out whenever the grandmother slept and explore places. Sometimes cities, sometimes the library, and sometimes eating crepes. Thus begins their adventure as Josee watches the world with sparkly eyes, and Tsuneo tries to understand the same from her perspective.
The plot of Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is not unique, but it does not necessarily mean it’s bad. It has three major dramatical twists, each of which has its own significance to the story.
The grandmother’s death
The first being the death of Josee’s grandmother. Although abrupt and tragic, this brings development to Josee’s character. Josee hits her breaking point, and her usual confident aura vanishes.
The next was Tsuneo’s accident. I remain slightly conflicted about this. The idea behind this plot twist is not difficult to understand. He does not feel how Josee, who is ridden in a wheelchair, feels. Her helplessness is heavy, but it’s not so easy for Tsuneo to understand because he is gifted with the basic necessity she lacks. But, he finally understands her feelings when he fractures several bones in his shoulder and ankle. Although things work out in the end, I find it difficult to digest that the story lays a harsh fate on Tsuneo, which costs him his passion for diving just to make him feel how Josee feels.
The last major twist is Josee’s sudden disappearance on Christman Eve. Although not tragic like the past two, this is where the two confess their feelings. It has a nice ‘back to the beginning’ ring around it, which although cliched, is heartwarming.
Despite the minute setbacks, the plot stands overwhelming and wholesome. Love should not bind us together in a cage, but help us nurture our wings so we can fly towards our dreams. With this concept in mind, the movie grants a happy ending. Josee becomes independent as she desired and does not tie Tsuneo to herself even if they remain together. She works as an illustrator for books. Tsuneo goes to Mexico and makes new friends. In a short post-credit clip, he visits Josee in a park during spring break.
The overall plot of the movie is easy to understand. It continues to fill the audience with serotonin till the last second. The pacing is very optimized as well. We get to see both the characters in their worst and their best. The movie does a brilliant job at depicting how they help each other stand back up after hitting rock bottom. I must appreciate the movie’s innocent ways of painting a deeper picture using a Tiger to depict fear and the fishes and the sea to depict the limitlessness granted by freedom.
The movie has spun some very likable characters. They are crafted with a lot of care and love, especially the protagonists. The only thing that bothers me is how we are unable to connect much with the side characters, especially Mai. I feel like we needed more background on her to connect with how deeply she feels for Tsuneo. However, I do understand that it is difficult to let in so much detail in a 98-minute movie. Though I will admit that in the limited interaction that I had with the side characters in the course of said 98 minutes, I could find nothing to dislike the characters.
The main character, Tsuneo and Josee come off very strong. Tsuneo is a bit generic. Josee is unique in ways that easily made her my favorite character. What is quite remarkable here is that they are nothing similar. Tsuneo is nice to everyone, while Josee is a straight-out brat. But their love for the sea is what bound them subtly in the first place. The development in their character extremely well-plotted. Josee, who was dependent on her grandmother her whole life, starts cooking and visiting the library by herself, which was a big and positive change in her life, marking her first steps into freedom. Tsuneo who had given up on his legs and dreams strives to walk and even goes to Mexico.
The grandmother comes off as controlling at first, but her side of the story is understandable since it was in the best interest of Josee. At the same time, who could not love her when she admits that she had known all along that she knew Josee was sneaking out but does not interfere because she sees good changes in her?
Art Style, Animation, and Music
Much like movies calming nature, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish had a very realistic type of art style. The features were drawn with extreme care by Nao Emoto and Haruko Izuka. Japan’s scenic beauty was captured with precision, and the underwater scenes were enough to fill me up with my daily dose of aesthetic orgasm. Studio Bones’ animation stood out the most when the movie featured slow-motion scenes of Josee and Tsuneo playing with the sea’s water.
Finally, the movie’s music is a masterpiece of work. Every soundtrack blurts out the emotions of the scene with bare minimum effort. The OST during Josse’s dream won my heart, especially. With the beautifully created scene and jaw-dropping animation, the OST is bound to hit differently.
The sakura trees, the beauty of the sea, and a lot of other things that I missed out added with the right music are what make Josee, the Tiger and the Fish a truly romantic experience.
The insert song and the ending theme by EVE have my mind imprinted for life.
The voice cast fit their roles perfectly. Even if it was his debut, I find no one as fitting to voice Tsuneo as Taishi Nakagawara. Kaya KIyohara’s voice as Josee was very soothing.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish movie was licensed by Funimation for streaming for fans overseas.
A surreal movie beautified by the combined efforts of a simple yet impactful plot with beautiful music and visually aesthetic art and animation. I would easily rate this movie 8.5 out of 10. But do not simply go by what I say and experience the movie for yourself!