Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 29, 2023 4:34 pm 
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A fish-obsessed oddball's meandering path to celebrity ichthyologist

Meebo, known as "Sakana-kun" or "fish person," is a portrait of the origins and slow development real-life TV "celebrity ichthyologist" Masayuki Miyazawa. This non-binary individual, neither fish nor fowl in personal gender terms in their real life, is shown in this oddball, anecdotal biography as obsessed with fish life long. The male-by-birth Meebo is played by females in the film, ending with Non - the perky actress of the "Amachan" TV series about a high schoolgirl who becomes a shell diver. You have to figure this one out for yourself. Not everything is explained, or can be in this sui generis meandering "tale."

Meebo spends most of their early days obsessing over fish encyclopedias. Other school kids find them odd, but they achieve acceptance for their newsletter featuring excellent drawings, especially of fish. Meebo isn't a good student. They bond with the similarly obsessed adult local well-known boxfish cap-wearing oddball "Mr. Fish Man," (played by the real-life Sakana-kun, whose trademark is this cap) who gets taken to the police station for keeping Meebo at his little aquarium-shack till after dark sitting and drawing together. Meebo protests that it was harmless. (Others later assume Meebo was abused.) Much later, a woman who has been dating Hiyo, Momo (Kaho), comes to stay with Meebo with her little girl for a while, and eventually the little girl, a convert, will become the owner of a fish encyclopedia sponsored by celebrity Meebo.

Meebo comes out of the water one day "wearing" an octopus - their favorite sea animal - almost as big as they are. Their permissive oka-san (Haruka Igawa), who is ever supportive, says they can raise the big octopus at home. Dad (Hiroki Miyake), who always has doubts, doesn't agree. He rips the big octopus' head off Meebo, then beats its tentacles on the ground to tenderize it and cooks it seaside for people to snack on. Oddly, Meebo never appears conflicted about switching from admiration to consumption of their finny friends. (One may remember Lewis Carroll's famous Walrus and Carpenter and the crowd of baby oysters they greet, and then eat.)

What happens to "Mr. Fish" after the trip to the police station one hates to think; he'never seen again. The film jumps to high school (with Non now playing the lead) when Meebo stands off classmate gang toughs, especially leader Hiyo (Yuya Yagira) who object to their depicting their gang in their (continuing) newsletter. Several gangs, whose battles are staged here like a comic dance, are impressed by Meebo's culot, or ballsyness.

While Mark Schilling in The Japan Times is impressed by Meebo's way of "enthusiastically tackling every obstacle the 'normal' world throws" at them, thinking this "suits" director "Okita's talent for mixing quirky observational humor with heartfelt but laid-back human drama," this rather facile formula won't get you through the whole two hours and twenty minutes. The justification for such a run time is the film's depth and specificity, its patient observation. Meebo fails at one fish-related occupation after another - aquarium, sushi bar, etc. - till a bit of drunken vandalism reveals unexpected skill at mural painting, leading to the opportunity provided by two old classmates to paint the walls and front of their nice new sushi bar. This in turn leads to illustration work, and only then at long last to the offer from Hiyo to be on TV doing what they do best: catch people's attention and talk about fish.

A Fish Tale さかなのこ ("Fish", 139 mins., debuted at Montreal Jul. 2022, Beijing Aug. 2022, and had its theatrical release in Japan Sept.2022. Screened for this review as part of New York's Japan Cuts Jul. 26-Aug.6 2023, shown Sat., where it was shown Aug. 5, 2023 at 12:00 pm.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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