Film Review: ‘Children of the Sea’ is a Gorgeous, Sublime Film that Boldly Plunges into Cosmic Themes
A young girl is drawn into a mystery involving sea life around the world, in which two mysterious boys are somehow involved.
Director: Ayumu Watanabe
Cast: Mana Ashida, Hiiro Ishibashi, Seishū Uragami, Win Morisaki
Runtime: 111 minutes
Throw in lush, sublime visuals that rival Makoto Shinkai’s films, and mix in a little bit of magical and fantastical elements in the plot that bring to mind Hayao Miyazaki’s earlier films, and you get Children of the Sea. Ayumu Watanabe’s second animated film is thoroughly engrossing and easy on the eyes in the first half. However, the second half descends into a mind-boggling mess that left me slightly disappointed.
Based on the manga of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi, Children of the Sea begins during Ruka Azumi’s (Mana Ashida) summer holidays. Because of a mishap that involves some tripping and elbowing, she got kicked out of her school’s handball club until she is ready to apologise. Refusing to do so, she instead visits the aquarium where her father works.
It is there where she meets Umi (Hiiro Ishibashi), a free-spirited, mysterious boy who lives in the aquarium. Later on, she also meets his brother, Sora (Seishū Uragami). Both of them were raised by dugongs in the Philippines all their childhood, and as a result, have supernatural abilities. Little does Ruka know, this meeting will spark an exhilarating summer vacation where she witnesses a meteorite, encounters the spirit of a whale, and participates in a transcendental festival in the sea.
Let me be upfront about my biggest gripe with this film: it is very convoluted. Taking into account that Watanabe has to squeeze in five volumes worth of manga into a feature-length film, this is unsurprising. The main problem, however, is that instead of focussing on Ruka’s internal conflict and her personal problems with her family – which are great stories to tell – the film takes a huge detour to explore huge, but vague cosmic events.
As a result, I left the film confused, with many questions about the plot – What is the true purpose of the festival in the sea? What really is Ruka’s role in this festival? Even Ruka is equally baffled in the end, unsure of what has happened to her and the two brothers. The film attempts to salvage this by explaining how humans can and should never try to fathom such cosmic events. Well, I’m not fully convinced. Although certain things in a story are sometimes better left unexplained, the story still feels unsatisfying if its big plot points are not clarified.
But don’t let that be a reason to deter you from watching the film. Children of the Sea is an absolute beauty to behold. Many reviewers have praised its visuals, and deservedly so. The film dazzles with a wide palette of colours, brush-stroked across the screen to evoke different moods throughout – a mysterious red during evenings, a surreal blue for the sea, an oppressive grey during thunderstorms, and more.
Watanabe doesn’t neglect the details as well, bringing alive the sea with corals and bioluminescent planktons, the harbour with its docked ships, and the streets and houses with overgrown greenery. The animated sequences of swimming characters, of the sea currents and the crashing waves are also seamless and fluid. It’s as though I’m right there with Ruka, Umi, and Sora as they dive into the sea and interact with marine life.
Of course, how can I not mention the soundtrack? Composed by the venerable Joe Hisaishi, the music is omnipresent, but never once does it overwhelm the film, serving only to strengthen the varied moods and emotions in each scene. At times, it can be mischievous to match Ruka’s and Umi’s spunkiness. At times, it can be contemplative and quiet as the trio ponders over cosmic questions. And at times, it can be calm, yet thrumming with life to reflect the mysteriousness of the sea. It is no overstatement to say that Hisaishi’s music has a life on its own, and it is a great — maybe even necessary — addition to what is already a visually gratifying film.
Children of the Sea is a stunning, lovely film that boldly reflects on the biggest ideas in life pertaining to cosmic significance. Unless you’re a huge stickler for plot, give the film a chance. You may be enchanted by what it offers about the joys and mysteries of life, nature and the universe. Or you can just ride along the flow of the film without trying to pin down its meaning. In doing that, you will be washed away by how magical and visceral the visuals are on the big screen.
Children of the Sea premiered in this year’s edition of Japanese Film Festival with two sold-out screenings. Check out the other films here before the festival ends on 20 December.
About the Japanese Film Festival
This year’s Japanese Film Festival has adapted to the new normal with its hybrid edition presenting a mix of virtual screenings at Shaw KinoLounge and physical screenings at Shaw and The Projector. For more on its eclectic selection Japanese cinema’s finest, visit its website here. This year’s edition will conclude on 20 December so hurry and grab your tickets now!
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