Josee, the Tiger and the Fish Review

Dept. of Coming of Age


Is it better to have lived without dreams, assuming they would remain forever outside your reach, or to have built your entire life around your dreams, only to have them taken away? That’s the core conflict at the heart of Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (Joze to Tora to Sakana-tachi), the anime based upon the short story by Seiko Tanabe.

The film, by animation studio Bones Inc., explores this though the lives of Kumiko, aka Josee (Kaya Kiyohara), and Tsuneo Suzukawa (Taishi Nakagawa), a struggling student and part time dive shop employee. While taking a detour home one day Josee is literally catapulted into Tsuneo’s life after a mishap with an out of control wheelchair.


Unable to walk since birth, Josee has only experienced a sliver of the outside world due to her grandmother’s insistence on protecting her from “scary beasts” out there. Despite her initial frosty reaction (Josee constantly calls Tsuneo “pervert”), cash strapped Tsuneo accepts a job helping to take care of Josee, allowing her grandmother to sneak out to pachinko parlours, or to squeeze in a not-so-quick nap.

While Josee puts up a facade of worldliness, she warms to Tsuneo slightly (she now calls him “servant” instead of “pervert”) as the two sneak out to experience what the world has to offer. Trips to the sea, to get crepes, and to join a library, all fall under the category of activities Josee has been unable to do before. Her Grandmother, however, wasn’t all wrong as both Josee and Tsuneo have to endure heartbreak and their own unexpected obstacles as they try to negotiate their lives.  

What Does the Sea Taste Like?

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

It’s been a couple of years now since Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa) and A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) meted out emotional anime devastation on a scale I’d hitherto assumed unimaginable. Watching both movies, even six months apart, almost felt like too much to handle. While I’ve seen plenty of anime since then that have tried to recapture the emotional highs, and tearful lows, of those two films, releases like like MiraiFireworks: Should we See it from the Side or the Bottom, and even Makoto Shinkai’s own follow up to Your Name, Weathering with You, failed to come close for me. Josee, the Tiger and the Fish doesn’t quite do enough to join their hallowed ranks either.  


It features a style that makes it stand out somewhat from the usual anime fare, although it can remain relatiely plain even when depicting the occasional flights of imaginative fancy. The story is pleasant enough, although a little meandering, at least until the third act when it starts to become clear what kind of tale director Kôtarô Tamura and screenwriter Sayaka Kuwamura have shaped Seiko Tanabe’s short story into.

Longing For the Sea

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish

I don’t know much about the filmmaker’s attitude towards disability, or in Japan in general, but at one point the film takes a turn that had me extremely worried it would end up being spectacularly ill judged and borderline offensive to wheelchair users. Thankfully that concern was unfounded and the film continued to be a very slow building romance amongst adversity story – and I’m not talking about Josee’s wheelchair.


It’s a worry that feels slightly more warranted after I discovered that Josee’s grandmother took her, a grown woman, out out in a pram to hide her from the neighbours in the 2003 version of the film. Thankfully she only uses wheelchairs in this version, and is fiercely independent in this tale of unlikely friends that slowly become something more.

With Malaysian cinemas currently filled with examples of massive spectacle or awards season darlings, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish provides an enjoyable, sweet, if somewhat slight, alternative. If you are planning on seeing it in the cinema, make sure to stay until after the credits to see how the story really wraps up.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (Joze to Tora to Sakana-tachi) opens in Malaysia, exclusively at TGV Cinemas, on Thursday, 22 April.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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