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Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish
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by Collin Souter

"So good, it hurts."
5 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2003 CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL)“Josee, The Tiger and The Fish” captures a confusing time in one’s life where love, lust, sympathy and charity collide. It examines a relationship that seems to be based on love and understanding, but one that also seems to have an undercurrent of ulterior motives. Not to say that the love between the two main characters doesn’t come off as genuine, but a viewer will probably have trouble shaking off the fact that the male in this scenario happens to be a horny college kid in his early twenties. Disillusioned, directionless and still susceptible to influence.

The movie opens with a series of snapshots with a voice-over narration from Tsuneo, the male lead. He mentions something about how he and Josee stole a car and took a trip that didn’t go as planned. Of course, we have to backtrack. Tsuneo goes to college and works at the mah-jong parlor. The people here talk a lot about a frail old woman who pushes around a mysterious baby carriage. People want to know what could possibly be in there that is so important for a woman this meek to pushing it around for the past ten years.

One morning, Tsuneo sees this carriage careening down the street, the frail old woman unable to keep up with it. Tsuneo opens the carriage and finds a woman his age sitting inside, the secret revealed. Tsuneo eventually gets to know the two women and even goes back to their house that same morning and eats a breakfast so good, he practically orgasms from the taste. Now, he can’t stay away. The woman, Kumiko, aka Josee, has been crippled most of her life and only has her stern Gran to look after her.

The intrigue of Josee’s situation carries two factors: One, Josee is an amazing cook with an insatiable appetite for second-hand books that Gran picks up for her when the college students throw them away. Yet she does not seem to be on any welfare program and her Gran does not look as though she has too many years left in her. The other benefit for Tsuneo is that if he appears charitable and caring towards this family, he will win the heart of a girl he has been trying to seduce (with his heart still in the right place).

The plan works, but of course it also backfires. Tsuneo eventually falls for Josee. He builds a skateboard onto her carriage so that she may see the world at a faster pace and in a bigger light. He tries to find books for her that have been out of print for years. He does everything for her that one would do in a romantic relationship, although I might be making the journey sound too smooth. Gran does not want Tsuneo around. She keeps trying to veer him away by claiming that Josee is “damaged goods,” and nothing, not even true love, could be done to make her life better. At the same time, Tsuneo tries to resist his feelings for Josee, but he can’t shake her off.

The movie does not try for a false sentiment that “love knows no boundaries.” It doesn’t try to win our tears by forcing some stupid stunt in its third act regarding a deadly illness. It doesn’t have any scenes where a male best friend says, “What do you see in her, man? I don’t get it. You could have any girl you want!” It bypasses all of that and settles on something more real, more intimate and more daring. Josee occasionally has a fit about something that makes Tsuneo’s commitment to her seems to be all the more burdensome with the passing of time.

“Josee” is also a very funny movie with an occasionally macabre sense of humor. One character, an angry, bitter old childhood friend of Josee’s, is seen in a hardware store carrying a bloody wrench with a person lying unconscious in front of him. The next scene, he is talking heart-to-heart with Tsuneo. No explanation of the wrench or what he did with it is given to the viewer, and it’s probably just as well. It’s little comedic touches such as these that give “Josee” its many interesting personality quirks.

But Josee has been given quite a memorable personality through the performance of the lead actress. Josee comes off as alternately shy and fierce, while not willing to waste a sentence. Always tough and independent, her vulnerability becomes all the more tragic once she pours her heart out to Tsuneo. The actor playing Tsuneo has a great degree of charm and charisma, but never comes off as smarmy or heartless. He gives Tsuneo an amazing amount of depth even at his most shallow. These actors give two of the best performances I’ve seen all year and I hope with all my heart that they will be discovered. (NOTE: Unfortunately, very little information exists regarding this movie. Even imdb.com does not have it in their database. I apologize for not having the names of the actors here for you. As soon as they become available, I will insert them in the review.)

The major discovery for me is director Inudo Osshin, who has been making movies since the late ‘70s, but has only had one movie to reach the states (“Two People Talking,” 1996). He nails every moment perfectly and does not shy away from cinematic or verbal poetry. Words come easily to Josee when she wants to make declarations of the heart and Osshin matches her sentiments with visual grace. “Josee, The Tiger and The Fish” captures perfectly the angst, the beauty and the tragedy of young love in the name of charity. Some might say that in a way, “Josee” depicts the ultimate male fantasy. Don’t be so sure. Director Osshin quickly points out that fantasies, either conscious or unconscious, can carry a hefty price. Yet, one shouldn’t let that get in the way of true love, either. A confusing time, indeed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8219&reviewer=233
originally posted: 09/30/03 09:33:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/08/05 Jenn Frank Unbelievably good. 5 stars
11/21/04 Killmaus Excellent movie, a friend recommended it, and I couldn't stop watching . 5 stars
11/08/04 Neil Gordon Queitly affecting beautiful movie 5 stars
9/19/04 beta this movie's awesome! btw, the actor playing tsuneo's called Satoshi. 5 stars
4/11/04 Art Blose read review above, couldn't add a thing 5 stars
1/30/04 Thora Not your everyday, typical (love)story, but very much worth your look. 5 stars
1/06/04 Ian MacDougall Good review. The car isn't actually stolen, though. It's borrowed. 5 stars
10/09/03 belovedbecca awesome!!!!! 5 stars
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Directed by
  Inudo Isshin

Written by
  Aya Watanabe

  Satoshi Tsumabuki
  Chizuru Ikewaki

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