100 Best Contemporary Japanese Movies – [3] Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (ジョゼと虎と魚たち)- Chizuru Ikewaki’s performance is timeless!

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (Joze to tora to sakana tachi) is an almost weird, yet endearing love story between an impressionable young man (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and a disabled, jaded young lady named Josee (Chizuru Ikewaki – in a career-defining performance).

What the Movie is all about: Directed by Isshin Inudo, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish centers on the Tsuneo, a curious, but otherwise typical, college student. When a baby carriage careens down a hill and crashes in his path, Tsuneo comes face to face with Josee, a charming young woman who, despite being disabled, is capable of most anything, least of all a mean breakfast. Though Tsuneo’s initial visits to her were made out of sympathy, it doesn’t take too long until he falls for her. [ Narrative by Tracie Cooper ]

Tsuneo is a university student working part-time in a mah-jong parlor. Lately, the customers have been talking about an old lady who pushes a baby carriage through the streets. They say she is carrying something for a crime syndicate, and they wonder what it is she has in the carriage… Money? Drugs? One day, the owner of the mah-jong parlor sends Tsuneo out to walk his dog. A baby carriage comes rolling down a hill and crashes into a guard rail. The old lady asks him to look into the carriage, where he finds a young woman clutching a knife. This is how Tsuneo first meets the girl who calls herself Josée. Her real name is Kumiko, and she is unable to walk, so her grandmother takes her out early every morning in the old baby carriage. To thank Tsuneo for his help, they offer him breakfast, and he begins to fall under the spell of the young woman’s unusual charm. Kumiko has named herself after the heroine of a novel by Françoise Sagan, and Tsuneo comes to call this strange girl by that name. He grows more and more attracted to her. [ AsianWiki ]

Why you should watch this movie: Aside from being one of Satoshi Tsumabuki’s biggest movies, this is also Chizuru Ikewaki’s most memorable performance to date.

The amazing on-screen chemistry between the two lead actors – Tsumabuki and Ikewaki – is so authentic, you can even sympathize with them as they make love after years of being apart. The poignant, truthful and matter-of-fact narration of the story is something that will keep you remembering the movie even after months.

Featured Film Critique: Short yet revealing review at Japan Times (Mark Schilling)

In this offbeat 2003 drama, a self-involved college student (Satoshi Tsumabuki) becomes the lover of a defiantly independent, lonely-hearted disabled girl (Chizuru Ikewaki). Ikewaki’s salty performance is by turns funny and poignant, while the film itself is a showcase for up-and-coming young talents, including star-in-embryo Tsumabuki.  [ source ]

Remember that this movie was 13 years ago, so Tsumabuki at this stage – is just a promising young actor in Japan, but look at where he is now! Even Ikewaki way back then, but both gave impressive performances that even now you can still wonder at the movie.

An equally fantastic review at Midnight Eye (by Magnus Riis)  about Josee follows:

The story is simple, but the unique world and characters of Josee, the Tiger, and the Fish are complex. Chizuru Ikewaki’s Josee is strong-willed and frank, but at the same time timid and curious, while Satoshi Tsumabuki’s Tsuneo is a very realistic portrait of a Japanese college student. I could swear that I have met Tsuneo during a go-kon (drinking party) somewhere. The chemistry between the two leads was strong enough for Go director Isao Yukisada to cast them opposite each other again soon after, in A Day On the Planet (Kino no Dekigoto, 2004). Besides the two leads, the movie is full of odd, and yet sympathetic characters that make the world of Josee all the more intriguing and strangely comfortable. It all feels like a fairytale taking place in Osaka.

Josee might be a drama, but it never tries to force your feelings the way a TV-drama does [ read more ]

There are some more Tsumabuki movies on this list, stay tuned!