Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment.
Title: Big Fish & Begonia
Anime Studio: Beijing Enlight Media
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Released: July 9th 2018
Language: Mandarin / English
Running Time: 105 mins
Extras: Making Of Documentary / 2004 Short Film Version
In a world within our world, yet unseen by any human, the beings there control time and tide and the changing of the seasons.
On the day Chun turns sixteen, she is transformed into a dolphin to explore the human world. She is rescued from a vortex by a human boy at the cost of his own life. Chun is so moved by the boy’s kindness and courage that she decides to give him life again. But to do this, she must protect the boy’s soul, a tiny fish, and nurture it to grow.
Through adventure and sacrifice, love grows, yet now she must release him back to the sea, back to life in the human world.
One thing that leaps out at you immediately with this movie is the clear Studio Ghibli influence in terms of the art. The human characters are drawn in a style that will be familiar to anyone who has watched Princess Mononoke or Howl’s Moving Castle. The facial shapes form a big part of this effect, but the same can be said of the detailing; outlines are smoothly drawn and the shading is displayed in large blocks of darkened colour that follow the curves of the characters faces and clothes. While this means that it utlises a more simple approach than something like Pyscho Pass, the artists do a fine job of ensuring that the quality doesn’t suffer as a result. In particular, the use of different coloured tonal layers on the screen helps create a wonderful feel of the characters being impacted by the environment rather than just sitting on top of it. Whether it be a change in the time fo day, or a shift I the weather, this technique is used to wonderful effect.
And speaking of the environment, that really is a thing of beauty. From the traditional feeling architecture of the other world to the sprawling ocean scenes and natural structures, the world wouldn’t feel out of place in any modern fantasy epic. The more magical moments are perhaps the best illustration of this. You need only look at the ceremony in the opening scenes to see how much care and attention has been given to creating something that looks fantastical while still feeling rooted in the world that we’re watching open up in front of us. And let’s not forget the non-human characters. The designs here really embrace their Eastern roots, with not only the costumes but the aesthetics of body shapes and movement being things that should be instantly recognizable to fans of East-Asian Mythology. You need only look to the phoenix for a clear example of this.
There isn’t a single part of the film that falls apart visually. The art is consistently strong, and the animation thereof is as smooth as anything released within the last few years. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the film really began life as a short flash animation in 2004. This original piece is included on the disc as a bonus feature and watching the two one after the other really illustrates how far the team pushed themselves to earn the accolades that the film has garnered. The film took around twelve years to produce, and that time was obviously well spent. The soundtrack is also very good. While much of it can be described as very traditional sounding, there are other things that creep in too. For example, some of the music at the start of the film wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, while other parts of the score would fit with any post-Lord of the Rings Hollywood blockbuster fantasy.
Of course, all the technical quality in the world would be for naught if the story itself was dull. In this case, that is not something that you need to worry about. The film primarily draws its inspiration from the Chinese Taoist collection, Zhuangzi, but also takes on other traditional tales from the Classic of Mountains and Seas and In Search of the Supernatural collections. There’s also a clear influence by The Little Mermaid. Rather than feel like a messy amalgamation of ideas, the result is actually a very coherent, at times heartwarming tale. Children will certainly enjoy the cute animals and well-paced mix of action and wonder, but will also get a kick from the familiarity of some of the story elements, especially when the parallels with Ariel and co pop up. At the same time, even adults who aren’t content with the same things should be able to take some pleasure from the sentimentality and deeper themes of the piece.
That’s not to say that the film will not cause problems for some though. The closing sequences of the film may feel a bit drawn out for viewers with shorter attention spans, as the pace slows quite a bit before we reach the final moments. Sections of the visual content may also be problematic for some; not only do some scenes – such as Chun trading part of her life for Kun’s – come across as being almost horror-esque, but no punches are pulled when it comes to dolphin fishing. The scene where this is shown doesn’t do anything to glorify the practice, but nor does it shy away from showing the bloody killing of the mammals. This has a lot of potential to cause upset for younger viewers.
In the end though, we all know what sort of content we and indeed our kids can handle. If the above mentioned things aren’t going to put you off, then what you’ll find here is a charming, complex story that manages to embrace its traditional roots without feeling aged. This is a modern classic that is more than deserving of a 4.5 out of 5 rating.
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