Review

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Josee, The Tiger and the Fish

Synopsis:
Josee, The Tiger and the Fish
Tsuneo is a young man who loves the sea and dreams of scuba diving in Mexico while studying abroad there. This goal is the cornerstone of his life and he works all kinds of part-time jobs in an attempt to finance it. One such job is being the caretaker to a socially-isolated paraplegic woman named “Josee” who lives alone with her overprotective grandmother.
Review:

Josee, The Tiger and the Fish, the new anime film based on the 1985 Seiko Tanabe-penned short story of the same name, premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2020 this past week. On its most surface level, it is the story of Tsuneo helping Josee become more independent—both physically and mentally—by working to overcome the physical disability that rules her existence. It's a fine setup for a film; however, what elevates it artistically is how it uses a visual metaphor to tell this story instead of simple verbal exposition.

Josee's legs are never shown uncovered throughout the film—nor is the exact nature of her disability made clear (beyond the fact that she's been this way since birth). They are always wrapped in a skirt whether she is in her wheelchair or is dragging herself throughout her grandmother's small house. In a film where the sea is such a fundamental part of both the characters and the story, it's obvious what the visual metaphor is: Josee is a mermaid stranded on dry land.

The entire world is not designed for Josee. Much is literally outside of her reach, elevators are too rare, pavement dictates where she can and can't go, and even something as simple as riding a train requires an employee and a special ramp just to get onboard. And that's before adding everyday pedestrians to the equation. To many of them, she and her chair are an unsightly obstacle to their everyday lives.

But her house is even worse. Her chair can't make it past the entryway so she is forced to drag herself from room to room. Stranded at ground level, she can't cook, clean, or do any of the other daily necessities. She is completely reliant on her grandmother for everything—and her grandmother is intent on keeping her as isolated from the dangerous world outside as possible. All Josee can do is dream—spending her days painting images of the world she is unable to go out and see.

And thematically, that's what this film is about: dreams. Everyone has them but so few actually come true. However, the trick is that no dream given up on is ever obtained. What's important is finding the path to your dream and working hard to get there. This often means doing a lot of things you don't want to in order to survive in the meantime—and dealing with any number of new problems that pop up. Sure, there will be detractors trying to dissuade you but the only time a dream becomes truly impossible is the moment you give up. Moreover, those who care for you will help you do what you need to do to obtain them.

All this is the message of the film—and it's delivered perfectly through Josee and Tsuneo's relationship as they learn it (and re-learn it) from each other in their darkest moments.

In the end, Josee, The Tiger and the Fish is a beautifully animated film about the struggles of the physically-disabled and the mindset needed to obtain your dreams. While it is a bit predictable and cliché in parts, the way it portrays the world Josee lives in gives us all a peek into what it's like to live in a world not designed for us while also highlighting the importance of personal independence to the human soul.

Grade:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B-

+ A story that shows you what it's like to live in a world not designed for you.
Predictable story beats, twists, and forced parallels.

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Production Info:
Director: Kotaro Tamura
Script: Sayaka Kuwamura
Music: Evan Call
Original creator: Seiko Tanabe
Original Character Design: Nao Emoto
Character Design: Haruko Iizuka
Chief Animation Director: Haruko Iizuka

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Josee, The Tiger and the Fish (movie)

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