First published in 1984 by celebrated Japanese author Seiko Tanabe, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish has been adapted several times throughout the years, with a live-action film in 2003 and another from South Korea earlier this year.
Adding to the canon is a new anime adaptation from director Kôtarô Tamura (whose most notable work to date is the Noragami anime series), and it’s something special indeed.
Josee is an ill-tempered young woman whose life has been bound to a wheelchair. Confined to a small apartment with her dependent elderly grandmother, she knows little of the world outside and is socially awkward. When a spirited young student named Tsuneo saves her life one evening, he is offered a job as her caretaker and begins to open Josee’s eyes to all of the wonders beyond her sheltered life.
Similar to films some may be familiar with, such as The Intouchables and its American remake The Upside, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish chronicles the bond formed between two unlikely strangers whose worlds collide in a twist of fate. At first glance the film might easily be overlooked as a typical and generic anime, however fans of the genre will delight in its intricacies and sincerity. It recalls the emotional profundity of the beautifully sombre 2018 film I Want to Eat Your Pancreas – a film that the target demographic will appreciate comparatively – and, as the title suggests, it explores its themes through metaphor and analogy.
The animation is excellent, with some of the story’s key moments presented via a delicate use of 3D CGI. From urban landscapes and seasonal changes, to magical fantasy sequences and seascapes, the picture is dramatic and wholly romantic. The world surrounding Josee and Tsuneo is just as important to telling their story as their relationship itself, and with an absorbing and fitting musical soundtrack accompanying montages and dream sequences, the filmmakers pave the way to the final act with concise amounts of entanglement, conflict and anticipation.
Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is a romantic drama for anime fans with a sentimental temperament. Seiko Tenabe’s story is perhaps all the more powerful for this animated adaptation, which is able to explore the fantasy and its parables more effectively than its live-action counterparts. It is a very sweet film indeed.
In cinemas: June 10
Starring: Kaya Kiyohara, Taishi Nakagawa, Matsutera Chiemi
Directed by: Kôtarô Tamura