Do not be fooled. Despite the same style of titles, this animated Japanese film has absolutely nothing to do with The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. If you’re expecting a Chronicles Of Narnia sequel with a godlike lion, you’ve come to the wrong place.
But what is Josee, The Tiger And The Fish about? Well, it’s set in modern-day Japan, and it’s a sweet little love story about two unlikely people who fall in love.
Its characters are charming, its visuals are lovely, and there are some wonderful little intimate moments that will make audiences go "awww’. It is also very melodramatic, making most soap operas feel like grounded, gritty documentaries in contrast.
The film tells the story of Tsuneo Suzukawa (voiced by Taishi Nakagawa), a student who works part time at a dive shop with his friends. Despite being short of cash, he dreams of going to Mexico to fulfil a personal dream.
One night, Tsuneo has a dramatic encounter: "Help, there’s a girl in an out-of-control wheelchair! Its rolling down a hill and about to crash!"
In true hero fashion, Tsuneo saves her, and learns her name is Kumiko (Kaya Kiyohara). Although she much prefers to be called Josee, after the character in one of her favourite books.
Josee’s grandmother (Chiemi Matsutera) asks if he could help take care of Josee, and the cash-strapped Tsuneo says yes. However, Josee does not like Tsuneo, and... OK, for reals, is there ANYONE who cannot see where this movie is heading?
Josee, The Tiger And The Fish has gone through many iterations over time: it started off as a short story by Japanese author Seiko Tanabe in 1984.
It then became a Japanese film in 2003, directed by Isshin Inudo. This was followed by two new versions in 2020 – a South Korean movie (called Josee) and this anime adaptation.
Clearly there is something about this story that keeps on capturing the imagination.
The 2003 film is somewhat famous for having a rather bittersweet ending. Fans hoping for a repeat of that are going to be rather disappointed, as this version of the story is an extremely crowd-pleasing, unabashedly sentimental romance. Not to say this is a bad thing: indeed, both versions have their strengths.
The animation of this film is done by Studio Bones (My Hero Academia, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood and many other famous anime) and is lovely to behold. Backgrounds are lush and colourful, and scenes involving well-known Japanese landmarks come alive in gorgeous detail.
Indeed, if there’s only one complaint that can be made about the animation, it's that there could be a lot more done with it.
The larger than life, dramatic romance between Tsuneo and Josee was just begging to be depicted in the vivid, surreal visuals that anime is known for. But everything is kept very grounded, except for one scene in the beginning.
Why adapt your story to anime if you’re not going to take advantage of the medium of animation?
The film also starts off a bit rough. Josee is introduced as a shrill, unpleasant girl who is unnecessarily mean to everyone, while Tsuneo is a ridiculously patient doormat who puts up with all her nonsense.
THESE are the characters we are going to spend one and a half hours following? Many audience members would panic.
Fortunately, both characters develop, and become quite endearing as the show continues.
The supporting characters are also fun, particularly Tsuneo’s girl-loving colleague Hayato (Kazuyuki Okitsu) and kindly librarian Kana (Lynn).
Watching Josee and Tsuneo bond is quite a fun experience: just be warned, a major theme of the film is what happens when dreams clash with reality. Expect some tears.
The biggest issue with Josee, The Tiger And The Fish, however, is that its third act is SUPER melodramatic. There are so many over the top dramatic twists it almost feels like a parody of itself. And Josee’s wheelchair always malfunctions at the most dramatic times. All that’s missing is a moustache-twirling villain.
Despite this, there’s still plenty about this long-titled film to love.
A fun little slice-of-life romance with some really sweet moments. Will Tsuneo and Josee’s love succeed? Will they rise above their circumstances and achieve their dreams? And how the heck does a tiger fit into all this? Watch this and find out for yourself.
A heartwarming, if sometimes melodramatic anime