Shades of Spirited Away in this sumptuous Chinese animated film.
Whilst Japan, and in particular Studio Ghibli is the big hitter in Asian animation, the Chinese animated films should never be counted out, and Big Fish & Begonia (original title: Da Yu Hai Tang) proves to be every bit as wonderful as some of the recent Ghibli greats.
Due to the colour of the aquatic animal of the title, obvious comparison could be made with Ghibli’s most recent offering, The Red Turtle, and whilst it echoes some of the environmental and spiritual themes explored, Big Fish actually bears more of a resemblance to the Ghibli masterpiece, Spirited Away. With its spirit realms, fantastical creatures, and a host of kooky characters, the world of Big Fish is wonderfully rich and immersive, served also by its gorgeous animation style.
Using a mixture of hand-drawn animation and CGI (which seems to be more of the norm these days), Big Fish & Begonia looks simply breathtaking. There were numerous moments where you’d wish you could freeze the image, just to stare at it for a length of time and take all of it in; indeed it is one of those films which numerous shots that are so astonishingly beautiful, they deserve to be hung up on the wall.
Despite its seemingly complex themes of rebirth, spirits, and destiny, Big Fish & Begonia is one of the more accessible foreign language animated films, and is almost as funny and genuinely heart-warming as classics such as My Neighbor Totoro. The characters are well-rounded, relatable, likeable, and if that wasn’t enough, it features some of the most adorable critters in any animated film; the titular fish who starts out quite the opposite of his eventual size is particularly cute. Unlike a lot of anime films, Big Fish actually sticks to a more child-friendly runtime at around 1 hour and 45 minutes, which again aids it’s accessibility.
The use of colour is particularly striking in this film, with the vivid reds (an important symbolic colour in Chinese culture) being particularly vibrant. In the more fantastical parts of the story is where the colour and the exceptionally beautiful animation really stands out, and both young and old will be staring wide-eyed at some of the incredible visual sequences.
Accompanying the beautiful imagery is a gorgeous score from Kiyoshi Yoshia; epic, grand, sweeping, emotional, tender, and poignant in equal measure, it is easily one of the year’s best.
There really is nothing to dislike about Big Fish & Begonia; it is utterly charming and delightful from start to finish, with a beautifully simple story about love, growing up, and sacrifice. Immerse yourself and feel swept away by this remarkably gorgeous animated film; hopefully one which is destined to become a future classic.