“Josee, the Tiger and the Fish” (2020) movie review
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Asst. Arts and Entertainment Editor
Twenty-two-year-old Tsuneo has a big dream. He wants to scuba dive in Mexico while studying abroad there. To make that dream happen, though, Tsuneo must work his butt off in various part-time jobs just to finance it. One such job is being the caretaker to a sharp-tongued, paraplegic woman named “Josee” who lives with her grandmother. Josee wants nothing to do with him at first, but he soon begins sneaking her out to the places she's been longing to go to, including his beloved ocean.
Based on the short story of the same name by Seiko Tanabe, this movie was released in Japan last Christmas, and the timing couldn’t be any more convenient. And since Christmas is considered a romantic holiday for couples in Japan, it would make sense.
Some viewers won’t take a liking to Josee at first. She is introduced to us as a feisty and spiteful jerk who treats Tsuneo rather poorly, forcing comically impossible tasks on her new caretaker. In anime, this is considered a typical “tsundere” archetype. The best way to describe it is a girl who is initially harsh and belligerent towards her love interest before slowly warming up to them over time.
Personally, I’ve grown to despise this kind of archetype. Thankfully, Josee stands apart from the crowd significantly as the reasoning for her attitude is logically-written. As a disabled woman who was kept isolated by an overprotective grandmother, it would make sense for her to have appalling social skills.
However, if anyone sticks around long enough, they’ll be rewarded with Josee’s amazing character development during the middle and end of the movie.
Tsuneo, the main lead, was someone any student at Rhode Island College could root for. Despite lacking a certain edge, he makes up for it thanks to his enduring personality and relatable struggles. As we’re painfully aware, you need a job first that will keep you sustained before chasing after some grand dream, which is the central theme of film.
Everyone has dreams they want to come true, whether you want to travel to Mexico, be an illustrator or just want to see and taste the ocean for the first time. Few dreams ever do come true, but the message is that no dream given up on is ever achieved. It often means doing a lot of things you normally wouldn’t and facing new problems, but the only time a dream becomes impossible is when you give up. And that is the message Tsuneo and Josee discover as they connect and bond in a meaningful, nurturing way.
In a lot of romantic or dramatic films, there is a tendency for theatrical crescendo and heavy melodrama. The music starts to swell. Characters break down, sobbing out their feelings at the top of their lungs. Those moments are when the filmmakers are essentially saying to the audience, “This is the moment where you're supposed to cry. Now cry, dammit.” It’s often very forced and telegraphed, and in lesser films, it sucks the immersion out of me. Thankfully, the movie is very restrained. It goes for a quieter approach. It’s a subtle form of emotional storytelling that’s way more effective than what any anime or film of today has to offer.
Sadly, it isn’t spared of the many predictable cliches sprinkled throughout the film. The pacing can feel unbalanced, rushing and slowing down in a few places, which made me feel like the movie should’ve been a little longer to give certain scenes more room to breathe. There is some superfluous love triangle drama that comes across as padding and nothing else. Regardless, this wasn’t nearly enough to completely hinder my viewing experience.
Through appealing visuals, solid animation and fully realized characters, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish still tells a powerful story about love, following your dreams and overcoming obstacles. Be sure to stick around through the end credits to get the full experience.