Synopsis: Tsuuneo is a marine biologist who dreams of studying in Mexico, in search of the elusive clarion angel. A random street encounter lands him in the employ of Josee, a reclusive artist bound to a wheelchair, who wants nothing more than to see the world outside the confines of her grandmother’s home. Together, the two of them support each others’ dreams.
Disclaimer: I am a diver. My motivations for diving are incredibly similar to Tsuneo’s motivations. I’m also employed in the creative arts, and have a particular fondness for character-driven stories about people following their passions and reaching for their dreams. This movie is my thing three ways over, so I’m definitely biased towards it.
That disclaimer out of the way – Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish.
We follow Tsuneo, a twenty-two year old marine biology student who runs summer jobs at a dive shop and various other places to pay off his studies. He winds up in the employ of Josee, a twenty-four year old artist bound to a wheelchair and confined to the care of her grandmother. The setup alone is refreshing as we follow twenty-something year olds as opposed to the usual high school settings that make up the vast majority of modern anime.
What’s apparent out the door is that this is an incredibly well-realized movie. Directed by Koutarou Tamura and realized by Studio Bones, both behind the blisteringly stylish Noragami, Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish is absolutely one of the best-looking anime movies of recent history. The backgrounds are never as imaginative as those of Studio Ghibli or as detailed and high-definition as the works of Makoto Shinkai, but the characters are something else altogether, from how their movements and facial expressions right down to their very, very drip outfits. Their faces are fun and dynamic, with each emotion punctuated with facial animations that are subtle in soft moments and bombastic in louder ones. Josee in particular is a joy to watch, her every feeling translated clearly across her face as she feels them.
A bouncing, bounding, living soundtrack injects further life into the movie. It’s easily one of my favourite anime movie scores. Where the soundtrack to Your Name may feature clear songs that are distinct from one another, the tracks in Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish all blend seamlessly into one another as one scene transitions into the next, popping and inflecting, dropping and drawling and weeping in step with the actions of the cast and the emotions of each scene in a great example of how a perfectly-designed soundtrack can make a great movie even better. Special shout out to EVE as well for Ao no Waltz, which is hands down one of my favourite songs from an anime ever.
All this great production is in service of a story that is truly beautiful. The movie is about following our passions and reaching out towards our dreams, like a lot of anime is, but Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish opts to anchor its story on a subject matter that can be very difficult to talk about: disability. It is very easy to get disability stories wrong and to come out as insensitive for it. In this regard, though, I think the movie does a fantastic job in portraying disability. Josee’s condition is a crutch. There is no sugarcoating that, and her life is difficult because of it. She knows this, and Tsuneo comes to realize this and commits to helping her experience, for once, the life that had been kept out of reach from her before. In fact, it’s where the beauty of this movie comes from, because it’s ultimately a story about people simply being there for their loved ones, ready to offer them a push on the back when they need one and an arm to cling to during hard times as they face the tigers of the world as they search for and reach out towards their dreams. This is definitely a lovey-dovey romance, but as far as romances are concerned this is the best kind, featuring a relationship founded on mutual support that is always giving, never overbearing, and definitely empowering.
As big a fan as I am of Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish, I do feel like it could have done with a little bit longer of a runtime. At just a little over an hour and a half and with a lot of ground to cover, the movie feels a little cramped at times, with some important plot points not being given enough time to unravel. This becomes most apparent towards the end of the movie. A nice little montage towards the end shows Tsuneo pushing through rehab after a terrible accident, and nice as it was, coming at the tail end of the movie we didn’t get much chance to see, and in turn to feel, just how hard a time he was having with it. That would have taken the movie to even higher heights. Afterwards we see Tsuneo and his friends tear up Osaka in search of Josee, whose things are packed and who has gone missing, and as sweet as this part was, we aren’t ever really given an explanation as to what she was up to. We could have had we had the movie spent a little more time with her, but because of the short runtime, it chose not to. Some of the payoffs our characters have been working towards wind up in a montage during the ending credits which, while okay to watch, would have been a little nicer to see as plot moments that unfolded in the movie. I would have loved a scene with Tsuneo swimming amid a shoal of clarion angelfish, as that dream of his was his driving motivation for most of the movie. All this is to say that I had such a good time watching Josee and Tsuneo work towards their dreams that I felt a little shortchanged that I didn’t have more time with them. I’d say that’s a good thing, despite being a criticism.
Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish is one of the best recent anime movies despite the shortcomings born of its short runtime. It’s beautiful and well-made, with such care given to how it looks and sounds and how its two leads bump and bounce off one another. And what wonderful leads they are. You want a good romance, you make your leads genuinely, whole-heartedly love another in their words and the actions they take for one another. Josee and Tsuneo’s love for one another is as deep as the salty ocean and as warm as a sunny beach, and I had the best of times watching them help one another reach the dreams they couldn’t reach before.
(-) A rather short runtime keeps the movie from exploring all the story threads it sets out
(+) The story itself is beautiful, sensitive, sweet, and careful in its depiction of disabilities
(+) Some of the best anime movie production I’ve seen
(+) Honestly, just one of the best anime movies out there