Josee, the Tiger and the Fish – Review


Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is the latest Anime project from Studio BONES whose current high-profile project is the adaptation of ‘My Hero Academia’. In this case, they are adapting a short story written by Seiko Tanabe that was written all the way back in the 1980s and is not the first time that this story has been adapted. It was previously adapted in the 2000s under another live-action film, once again with an all-Japanese cast, but was also adapted last year by a Korean production company with the knowledge that the film was coming out around the same time as the Anime. To avoid confusion, the film was simply named Josee. The film was directed by Kôtarô Tamura, a man who mostly works on storyboards. If you follow Anime circles, you will definitely recognise a lot of the series he has made storyboards for, with a screenplay written by Sayaka Kuwamura who has written a lot of screenplays for live-action Japanese dramas, this being her first Anime project.

Now I actually saw this film by chance; I was not actually meant to go and review it. But, due to a mix-up, I had to get a new ticket and happened to see that this was playing around the time I arrived in Liverpool, so I picked up a ticket to go and see it. It is not actually going to be playing in too many cinemas, and since this film is licenced by, expect it to get a Blu-ray release in a few months time. So, this is more of a review of what film you can expect to see in a few months time and whether it is worth getting when it receives home release. If you are lucky enough that a cinema in your area is playing it, take this review into account as I do not know if any extra dates have been added.

Now obviously Josee is one of the lead characters in this film, but we are first introduced to the other main character, Tsuneo Suzukawa, a Marine Biology student and enthusiastic diver who wants to study abroad in Mexico and is saving up money to do so by working several jobs. He comes across the titular character Josee by chance after he saves her from being injured, after her wheelchair was pushed down a hill. Her grandmother, very thankful for helping her out, offers him a job as a caretaker providing that he never takes her outside. Josee, however, is an artist fascinated with the ocean, and one day after her grandmother leaves home, he takes her to see it. From there, Tsuneo introduces her more and more to the world she has been cut off from.

Yes, this is not the most original film in the world. It is very much a sweet romcom and is kind of typical of Anime tropes if you watch a lot of Anime like this. I will say however that it is really good in that department. I think Anime fans are tired of characters being teenagers in high school and will appreciate that both Tsuneo and Josee are in their early to mid-twenties. I know it does not sound like much but trust me, when you have seen a ton of romcoms with characters in their mid to late teens, it makes a massive bit of difference. As a result, we never get a typical high school setting. Tsuneo is a university student but there are not too many scenes of him actually in university, though he does build up quite a rapport with one of his professors who is trying to get him a scholarship. But most of the side cast really consists of Josee’s grandmother and Tsuneo’s friends from the diving shop that he works at.

Another thing that this film does well is its fascination with the ocean. The best stories of the ocean capture what is so fascinating about the ocean in real life, the fact that it is both otherworldly yet terrestrial, almost real yet unreal. You cannot believe how diverse it is in both life and scope, and this film nails it! We do not actually see too much of it in the literal sense, but the film does do an excellent job through Josee’s art, and art becomes a major plot point later on as well as several other factors, like a trip that Tsuneo and Josee make to an aquarium. The other thing is that despite the fact this is an obvious romance film right from the start, they had to do a very good job building up the chemistry between the two leads and they do not do the one thing that I really hate in romance fiction: having one of the characters take up all the character traits while the other one’s personality is almost entirely comprised of the fact that they are either in a relationship or want to be romantically linked with another character. They do a pretty good job with both Josee’s character and Tsuneo’s.

Despite the fact that Tsuneo is a caretaker—and, in fact, Josee throughout the entire film refers to him only as “caretaker”—he certainly is not doing much of what you would expect from a person in that position. Josee is shown to be a fairly capable character, being reminded more and more just how capable she is as Tsuneo brings her more and more out of her shell. I also like the fact that they avoid a lot of tropes that are really getting boring in films like this. For example, despite the grandmother’s resistance towards the idea, when she finds out, she does not immediately ban Tsuneo from visiting the home; she actually assesses the situation and comes to the conclusion that she might have been in the wrong in this scenario, seeing how well Josee is doing.

The film has a stronger second half than it does the first half. That is not saying the first half is weak, but the film’s biggest strong points come through in the second half. For one thing, I have not really been discussing much about the fact that one of the leads is a wheelchair-bound character; the film never specifies why Josee is wheelchair-bound. However, she does not use it all the time, having alternative equipment to get her around the house and do her tasks. Most noticeably, we see her having some steps to reach the kitchen work surface to cook. What is pleasantly surprising is the fact that the writers do not make the fact that she is a disabled character (apologies if that is the wrong phrase to use, feel free to correct me in the comment section) her entire identity, but actually make her a fully three-dimensional character. She is a talented artist who is very cynical to begin with but does slowly come out of her shell to people that she grows attachments towards; she can be very angry and stubborn but also has a very caring side; and they really do nail the slow growth in chemistry between her and Tsuneo, who they wisely show to never be taking pity on her. Both characters grow throughout the film and are both fully three-dimensional. As a result, their relationship is very believable and sweet. But it is also the fact that both of them have, what is in basic writing terms, a want and a need, and the film does a very good job delivering character arcs that feel satisfying by the end.

The side cast however is kind of all over the place; they actually do not play much of a role outside of Josee’s grandmother who might be one of the funniest characters in the film. There is also Matsura Hayato, who is basically the archetypal best friend/comic relief character, as well as Mai Ninomiya who is basically the ‘third wheel’ in the love triangle, and probably one of the weakest parts in the film. No offence to the actors who portray them—they are doing a fine enough job—but Mai is kind of the weakest part of this film by simply the fact that she only really fulfils an archetype role and does not really have much of a character arc. They at least give her character a good pay-off that feels mature but I could not really tell you much about her, apart from the fact that she obviously has a crush on Tsuneo and kind of resents Josee for taking up so much time up with him.

Also, this film is really funny; there were several moments where I found myself laughing. But this film also makes you really care about the characters, which any good film like this should do. If anything, it tries to replicate the effect that the Makoto Shinkai films did, minus the paranormal elements that are part of his films. While I do not think it reaches the heights of Your Name or Weathering with You, I do think it has excellent writing and does recapture some of the effects. I have also seen Josee, the Tiger and the Fish compared with Silent Voice but I do think that is a much better film. However, even though I have all of this Anime to compare it with, the film that it really reminded me of was from five years ago called Me Before You. If you do not remember it, it came out in 2016 and was based on a book by Jojo Moyes. It was also a film that told a romance story between a wheelchair-bound character and their caretaker, though in this case the gender of each of those roles was reversed. It probably got more attention than it maybe would have done as it starred Emilia Clarke at the height of her fame from Game of Thrones. This is the film that Me Before You should have been—you might recall that I did not review that film very favourably as I found it a bit of a boring mess with an ending that I found rather problematic by adding in a very heavy subject matter that did not really belong. It tonally felt off, the chemistry did not really feel there between the two leads, and it did not really know what it wanted to do with the subject matter. It is almost like the writer wanted to do a completely different story partway through in order to get this ending but then forgot to write the build-up that led to that ending, but then left all the build-up they had written in.

While Josee, the Tiger and the Fish does have its rather heavy moments, it does not actually happen till we have time to get to really know these characters, something that Me Before You really forgets to do, and as a result, those moments hit harder. Plus, it never really dives into incredibly heavy subject matters like Me Before You tries to, so the film tonally weighs a lot better. Plus, the big difference is it is not just the fact that the chemistry between the love interests is better, it also actually has a much better view on living with a disability. Now, I will stress that the writers of Me Before You did not set out to create a negative film about disability, and I will not spoil why for people who have not seen that film but trust me, if you really want to know about it, type in the film’s title plus either “rant” or “review” and you will find a few people that actually can explain the point quite well. It also tends to lead to a Channel 4 debate with the film’s director. But man, does it not nail that aspect, and even if they did not set out to make it as negative as it was, they inadvertently still did. If you want me to do a full article that spoils both films where I really go into detail about what Josee, the Tiger and the Fish gets right and everything Me Before You gets wrong, I will definitely consider doing it. But, yes, what everything Me Before You gets wrong, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish gets right.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is also beautifully animated. The animation quality is fantastic here, including some excellent sketch artworks. The Little Mermaid is definitely a theme that is used regularly throughout the film with a lot of mermaid imagery, though this one ties back more to the Hans Christian Andersen story than it does the Disney film. It also does an excellent job showing the beauty of Josee’s artwork as well. And let’s not forget the soundtrack! There are some excellent songs by artists and bands that you will recognise if you watch a lot of Anime, though the film’s score is also excellent. I would not expect less considering that this is another score from Evan Call, who also did the soundtrack for Violet Evergarden, and he hits another banger out there.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is a beautifully animated, well scripted and phenomenally acted film. I saw the film in the English language dub as I saw it a week after release and the performances were all excellent, especially the performances of Howard Wang as Tsuneo and Suzie Yeung as Josee. The writing is excellent, the character dynamics are great. It is a film that really nails the three-act structure brilliantly, and as a film that portrays a relationship between one character in a wheelchair without having to stop and talk about it every 5 minutes, thus allowing Josee to be a fully-functioning character and not an archetype, which is what I was really worried about going into the film. I have heard some people talk online to say that this film only exists for political correctness, which is really annoying in every sense of the word. But that is Twitter—what are you going to do about it? They are being complete arses because they are missing out on an amazing film. Plus, I am getting really sick of the idea that people in Japan cannot have progressive ideas and sick of people saying that Japan is pandering to a Western audience. Trust me, as someone who watches Anime for a living, Anime is still way more focused on a Japanese audience than it is a Western audience, even with its global coverage right now.

This film is beautiful, and I really recommend you watch it. It is one of the few well-written romcoms you are going see, and if you are worried on the other scale of things, there is absolutely nothing problematic in this film; it is fantastic. Although, do not be like the audience I saw it with—actually stay for the credits as there is a lot of visual storytelling taking place during the closing credits and a brilliant post-credit scene that ties the whole film together.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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