Tsuneo Suzukawa wants to go to Mexico to study marine biology. He works in a scuba shop in Japan to make money for his school, but it is not enough. When he gets the opportunity to get a higher paying job, caring for a difficult girl in a wheelchair, he jumps at the opportunity and finds more than just a better paying job.
Tsuneo Suzukawa loves fish, specifically the Clarion Angelfish. It is his dream to study abroad in Mexico City, Mexico to have a chance to dive in the waters and study them. While he is passionate about the angelfish, the difficult part about Tsuneo is that there is not a whole lot to him. He is a poor college boy who works at a dive shop, occasionally goes out for drinks with his friends, and lives in a tiny apartment. I wish that we had gotten more scenes and information surrounding the work that he does with the professor that he works with in Japan, but we only get teased with that part of his world. We do, however, see much more of his life taking care of Josee. If begrudging lovers trope is for you, this movie was made for you. Tsuneo spent most of the early part of his time with Josee being effectively abused through her demanding he do menial tasks. Despite this, he seemed to be the first of the two to grow comfortable in their relationship. While Tsuneo’s teasing is not always well received, he is caring, fun, and positive, if not a little oblivious to how Josee is feeling at times.
I cannot remember why we call Kumiko Yamamura “Josee”. I do not think it was ever explained, but it also seems to fit the theme of uncertainty surrounding her character. Josee is a fickle and shy girl. Oftentimes her shyness can come out in frustration or avoidance and this is the crux of her personality. Josee has been unable to walk her entire life. She lives with her Grandmother who finds it harder and harder to meet her needs as they grow older. We learn early on that Josee is quite the artist. The scene where we first enter her room feels like entering a room with a fireplace after a chilly day. There is art all over the walls and the desk, as well as supplies scattered around the room. It is our first glimpse into someone who is not nearly as cold as the fasade she tries to put on for others, especially Tsueno. While in the beginning of the movie I found it hard to appreciate Josee, when she starts to open herself up to others and move out into the world I gained a much bigger appreciation for her.
Mai Ninomiya has a chance this time. She has short hair, which would normally disqualify her from any romantic interest in anime, but alas Josee has short hair too! Mai works at the dive shop with Hayato and Tsuneo and is Josees rival in getting Tsuneo’s attention. She is very aggressive in her feelings for him and preserving Tsuneo’s wish to go study abroad and see the fish he has worked so hard for. I wish that we got to see more of Mai in a context outside her relationship with Tsuneo but there was a clear set of main characters and there was no room for more than two characters there. If you like your characters to pass the Bechdel Test, Mai is likely not going to meet your expectations.
If our last three characters are in a love triangle, Hayato Matsūra lives everywhere but that triangle. Every girl that comes to the dive shop gets hit on. In contrast, Hayato plays a very reserved role in the movie. I get the impression that he takes in a lot of what Mai says behind the scenes and really tries his best to make sure that the three of them get along as best as they can. His role comes into better light in the back third of the movie, but there was plenty of room for him in the front half that left me wanting more.
I have to admit, there was a while between my first watch of Josee and this review. Randy and I were so excited to see the movie that as soon as it came out, we ripped a version from the internet sea. I recently watched it a second time, just for this review, and found it was much more enjoyable of a movie when I had all the anticipation of the experience. I really hate feeling like that. I want my excitement to continue on for each viewing, but this is rarely the case. Naturally, I have to wonder how to rate it emotionally to account for situations like this.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is not an emotionally heavy movie. There is a dull sense of pleasure that comes with a movie that follows a relatively simple plotline, has good enough characters, and relies heavily on being something new. I enjoyed the movie, don’t get me wrong. I will always stand up for a movie that represents disabled people in an honest way and that has library girls, but it is not an emotional masterpiece and there are a couple scenes that felt missing to finish off the story. I wish some of the great moments of animation had been more frequent and I wanted to feel more attached to our secondary characters. Josee is a straightforward movie that is enjoyable the first time, but on second watch lacks emotional elements that would make it impactful for most people. I think Josee, as a character, brings unique emotion and therefore creates an interesting emotional dynamic, but I wanted more from the story overall.
It is pretty hard to miss the themes of disability and the lack of control that stems from disabilities. Josee is a fiery girl, but ultimately has to depend on other people to help her live a fulfilled life. A lot of the learning and the dynamic between Tsuneo and Josee revolves around the lack of understanding of control. Josee feels acutely aware that she is not in control of many aspects of her life. She cannot move effectively. Not only because she is bound to a wheelchair, which gives her some mobility, but also because she has not had the experiences like navigating the train system. Control of her movement is largely left up to other people and when they control your movement, they also control your experiences. Tsuneo seemed to really struggle to understand this. He had been able to walk and move freely his whole life, so the idea of your experiences being restricted by your body was something he would need experience in before he could really relate to Josee on any level.
While Tsuneo always had his physical freedom, he struggled with financial freedom. His experiences were limited to the amount of money he could raise in order to attend his dream school in Mexico City, Mexico. This is what caused him to reduce his hours at the dive shop and take care of Josee. While I think it is pretty easy to get caught up in the romance between the two, he didn’t want that job. If he could have spent more time at the dive shop, he would have rather done that instead of taking care of Josee the porcupine. While we don’t see the effects of Tsuneo’s lack of freedom as much, it’s important to note that there were several times in the movie where he discussed a lack of food, the inability to save much money, and the poor size/conditions of his apartment. Where I might gloss over this as another element of Tsuneo being young, I do think that there was an intentional setup of dependency between him and Josee. Neither one of them wanted to be around each other but they were deeply reliant on having what the other one needed.
Overall, there just aren’t many stories told about people with disabilities. A Silent Voice is one of my favorite movies, not only because it has amazing animation but because it has fantastic depictions of deaf people. I studied American Sign Language in high school and do web accessibility work right now, so people with disabilities are often on the forefront of my mind. Yet, for how many disabled people we have in our society, we often ignore their stories. I really appreciate Josee, The Tiger and the Fish for taking up the mantle on this and doing a really good job.
There is a standard format for romance movies and Josee is not a stranger to that formula. Our main character is thrown into a situation in order to meet and end and the learning and growing that takes place is interrupted by rival romance and classic misunderstandings. Where some people might get bored by the format, you have to understand I grew up watching Hallmark movies. If you have never watched a Hallmark movie, not only are you missing out on life, but you are missing out on the most boiled down romantic formula that has ever existed. My brother and I got to the point where we could anticipate dialog from new movies as they were airing. It is obviously pretty biased to appreciate something that is admittedly overused, but I like it and that is how I score things, nice and biased.
Let’s pretend that you are an anime character for a moment. You walk into your closet and you see three outfits. The one you wear every day, your school uniform, and your swimsuit. Characters in Josee, the Tiger and the Fish actually have full wardrobes. It was such an important detail to me that characters changed their hair, they wore new clothes, and they had individual fashion. Kana Kishimoto is a girl who works in the library that is often visited in the movie. Aside from the fact that library girls are the best (think Rin from Laid Back Camp), Kana was awesome because she was a side character that was still given enough attention that she also got new outfits! I watched the movie with Randy and I think we counted eight or nine different outfits, which is crazy for a side character! We ended up making a game out of counting how many outfits she had and getting more excited every time the counter ticked up. Details like this feel so important. There are amazing scenes in the show around the aquarium scenes, the lighting in a very special moment, and others, but the attention to detail elevates the overall impact of solid animation and memorable moments.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish rides a fine line between making sure the world has personality and restricting our world to match Josee’s experience. I was very happy with how the world was laid out. Moving out into the world felt like an adventure into something new. There seems to be an unspoken connection between our exploration of the world and Tsuneo facilitating our movement, as if we are Josee. Perhaps the best part about the world was the connotation that locations had. Josee disliked the dive shop because it represented Tsuneo’s life where she had no place, the ocean was the forbidden place she could not go on her own, the library was the place where she could grow and be part of society, and the train station was the place where all of her fears and lack of access came to fruition. This is just the beginning too, Tsuneo has his own connections to the ocean and what it means for him, so every location is imbued with special meaning that should be given good attention when you watch it.
My music lovers will love this soundtrack. Josee goes out and recruits Evan Call for a truly wild blend of sounds. If the name sounds familiar, like it did to me, that is likely because he was responsible for the Violet Evergarden soundtrack. So let’s talk about what makes this soundtrack so interesting. The sound profile is so varied, it is hard to think it is the same movie sometimes. There are tracks that sound like a Monster’s Inc. introduction that are followed up by something that sounds like it would be on the playlist of a modern poke shop. We then transition to orchestral tracks that sound like they should be on a Ludovico Einaudi album (my favorite classical artist). It is incredible how many different sounds that Josee was able to get in with 37 songs, leaving only 30 mins without music. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wouldn’t listen to this soundtrack again if I had the choice. Not because I had to listen to it seven times to write this section, but because the songs I could identify from the movie were so frontloaded that the back half of the soundtrack lost its luster without scenes to play in my head. The soundtrack is unique, diverse, and fun, but the lack of connection to scenes in the back half held me back from really loving it.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||4||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||4||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||5||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||3||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||4||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||3||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||2||3|
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish takes an old romance format and imbues it with new ideas of ability and control. While I found it much more enjoyable the first time because I was so excited for it, romance fans will find a familiar story that they should have a great time with.