Okja - The Unofficial, Live Action, Studio Ghibli Movie From Netflix
Okja is a movie that was created by and released on Netflix recently. It stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead,) Giancarlo Esposito (that guy who was blown up in the nursing home in breaking bad,) Jake Gyllenhaal and Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija, the main protagonist and Okja; a giant, hippo-like, CG, Super Pig. The film is a wonderful tale about a young girl and her pet Super Pig. Well, it's not her pet exactly. It's actually a prototype that belongs to a huge corporation. The girl was simply chosen to help raise the Super Pig on her family's farm in Korea. Her family and many others around the world, were chosen as hosts to assist with the company's research. When the Pig (Okja) is taken from her farm and prepped to be sent back overseas, Mija, along with a little help from some animal rights activists, become temporary allies in order to rescue the large, adorable creature from its evil, corporate overlord. I don't want to spoil too much of the movie but it'll be hard to discuss the themes present in the film without giving away some of the story. Just be aware going forward that some elements might be indirectly spoiled.
Okja has been getting a lot of praise for its wonderful story, characters, message, and production quality. I would have to agree with much of the positive feedback. The casting was excellent. Tilda Swinton is always fantastic and, although I feel like she's typecasted at this point, she always does a great job. Seo was perfect as Mija and her interactions with the CG Okja were very well portrayed. The cinematography was nicely done and you could tell they took the time to plan many of the shots with purpose and feeling. The animation of the super pig had it's good and bad moments. There were some scenes where it looked amazing and pretty real and some moments where it looked like Okja had the same animators as that dancing CG baby from the 90's (yes that is a very dated reference).
This movie doesn't waste any time setting up the clear distinction of "bad corporation who wants to feed the world through genetically modified animals" and "nice people who understand that animals are more than just breathing meat sacks." The film doesn't really let you develop a sense of feeling for the characters, it tells you how to feel. Not that it's a bad thing it just made a lot of the story seem forced going forward. Factory farms are a huge industry and the concept of overpopulation hitting a sustainable threshold isn't new to cinema. This movie, however, takes a fun, adventurous approach to this idea and I really enjoyed it. There was something that kept bothering me about this movie and it took me through most of the opening act to put my finger on it.
Okja, in a nutshell, is an unofficial, live action Studio Ghibli movie. For those of you who aren't familiar, Studio Ghibli is an animated film studio led by Hyao Miyazaki. His studio is responsible for some of the most beloved animated films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. His movies, for the most part, focus on a young, female protagonist who is confronted with challenges that focus on the plight of man vs nature or the powers of love and imagination. Ghibli movies also tend to have a giant, adorable creature who accompanies the protagonist on their journey. This is Okja. While the two are not affiliated, I feel like the similarities can't be ignored. I even noticed it in the way some of the characters like, Jake Gyllenhaal's, were acted in an over the top fashion that might seem awkward in most live action movies. I think it worked in Okja because I was able to see the movie through an animated lens. The shots, the characters, the theme, everything fit the Ghibli model.
In the end, Okja was a good movie. A triumphant tear jerker about a girl who saves her CG Super Pig from the jaws of the American, factory farm complex. It was entertaining and I think its heart is in the right place. Though it panders very hard to one side of it's core theme while throwing some heavily debated science (behind GMO's) off the table at the start, I didn't let that get in the way of me enjoying it. So if you have Netflix, you should check out Okja. If you're a fan of Studio Ghibli films I'd love to know your thoughts as well. If you're a huge believer in hard science and you think this is a leftist propaganda film and you can't just suspend your disbelief to enjoy a fantastical tale about a girl and a giant pig, maybe give this one a pass.