[MIFF ’19] Children Of The Sea (2019)

Japanese animated films otherwise known as Anime are always quite an interesting adventure, they tackle all sorts of genres and the animation itself is generally intriguing and helps tell the story in unique fashion. Studio Ghibli is perhaps the best-known Japanese animation studio, but Studio 4°C has also been doing fantastic work for over 30 years and offer a wide range of films and TV series including Transformers: Animated (2008) and Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015). That brings us to Children Of The Sea their latest film, an adaptation of a manga of the same name. The manga had 5 volumes and whilst this reviewer hasn’t read it, condensing what seems like a lengthy and complex story into an almost 2-hour film is quite the feat. But does this adaptation work? It is the ultimate mixed bag, an interesting one to say the least.

The story begins introducing us to the sea, and a young girl named Ruka who is drawn to the ocean. Her father works at the town aquarium, a place she hasn’t been to since she was a child. Her mother also used to work there, but she has succumbed to an alcohol addiction and Ruka feels distanced from her. During Ruka’s summer holidays, she part takes in a program at the school playing sports, but after she retaliates against a bully for tripping her over, she feels lost and alone. Deciding to visit the aquarium, she finds there are two young boys who live there Umi and Sora, who were found in the sea living with dugongs (as her father describes it). Drawn to these brothers, Ruka begins to spend time with them, as mysterious events seem to be happening around her. Meteor’s begin falling from the sky and marine life is acting rather strange. What could be going on and how is Ruka connected to it all?

Children Of The Sea has some of the most breath-taking animation there is, it is a visual delight at every turn. The underwater sequences are remarkable, vibrant and paint this glorious picture of life under the sea. This is the big strong point of the film, and it showcases just how far animation has come over the years. The first half of the film is intriguing, a different type of coming of age story with main character Ruka and a strange mystery that is linked to the ocean and life. After the second half is where the film has issues, and whilst it is a visual feast for the eyes it isn’t easy to understand where the story is going what it is trying to say.

It has a big philosophical element that some will embrace, and others will not, it is part Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). While it is quite beautiful to watch, it does drag on and takes far too long to get anywhere during this part and it doesn’t quite become clear what the real message is. With that said, it is not even clear if there is a message or if this is something that each viewer will interpret differently. It is unfortunate because there seemed to be so much potential within the film, and as it unravels it almost felt as if it really didn’t know where to take it. Just how faithful it is to the manga; this writer isn’t able to say however the ambition shown here is highly respected and appreciated.

The film may be difficult to understand through the second half, it does give the audience many things to ponder and perhaps even to seek out more. There are some interesting visuals, the scrape on Ruka’s knee that gets shown often could represent that she feels broken and is destined to grow and fix herself. Whilst not going into detail but showing her family life through mostly her point of view, it does become apparent that her parents are not doing well and may even be separated. These visuals do leave a big impact and even though it is not a huge plot point, it feels as though perhaps their pain is meant to ease through Ruka. It isn’t something that is made clear but hinted at in moments through the film and this is a stronger element along with the visuals.

This film is destined to be a divisive one with audiences, the strange sequences and having a second half that doesn’t match with the first could be confusing. It is possible the film’s message is about rebirth, and that is a beautiful thing and a message that is universal. There is a scene in the credits (that was missed) that seems to hint to that message, if you are planning to watch the film look out for that. Children Of The Sea is a mixed bag, lots of wonderful aspects and others that don’t quite work. Across the board the animation and voice work is excellent, and it shall be interesting to see what else Studio 4°C will come out with in the future.


Review written by Marcella Papandrea




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