Love as Big as the Ocean — BIG FISH AND BEGONIA

Reviewing Shout Factory’s Blu-ray release of the lushly animated Chinese tale

Big Fish and Begonia is a ravishingy beautiful Chinese anime film that goes long on a dense and complicated mythology that will both perplex and astonish viewers. It’s based in part on Chinese legends, but viewers may recognize similarities to The Little Mermaid or Miyazaki’s Ponyo as points of reference.

The film presents a version of our universe in which an alternate world exists beyond our own, one infused with elemental magic, linked to our world by the ocean. In this place, teenagers who come of age are sent into our own realm as a rite of passage, taking on the form of dolphins, on a journey of observation and self-discovery (not unlike the Australian concept of walkabout).

Returning home from her journey, a girl named Chun becomes ensnared in a net. She’s saved by a brave human boy her age, but he drowns in the struggle.

Grieving and ridden with guilt, Chun tempts fate by invoking forbidden magic to resurrect him. Journeying to the mischievous keeper of souls of the dead, she strikes up a deal to restore the boy’s life in exchange for a part of her own, and their souls are thereafter linked. He is brought back in the form of a baby whale (whom she names Kun), and she must care for him, raising him to maturity in order for him to return to his world and normal life.

Aiding her is her friend Qiu, who harbors a hidden love for her. But as the pair perform their secret task, the cost of their magic becomes evident: their natural world is thrown out of balance; the seasons confused into violent disarray. Not to mention Kun is more difficult to hide and care for as he grows ever larger. As they get closer to accomplishing their goal, the world is drawn into further chaos until the fate of their realm hangs in the balance. It’s an epic tale of love, sacrifice, and bad decisions.

The film is big, dramatic, and theatrical, and the density of the mythology — which is to say, the utter weirdness of the story — may prove challenging. But it’s also desperately beautiful and deeply affecting (translation: Niagara Falls, Frankie Angel). Give it a chance.

The Package

Shout Factory released Big Fish & Begonia on Blu-ray (Combo Pack with DVD and Digital Download) on August 7.

The disc includes both English and Mandarin audio options, with English subtitles.

Her are a few additional screenshots to drive home how absolutely stunning this animation is.

Special Features and Extras

  • Making-Of Documentary (23:48)
  • Big Fish — the original 2004 short film version of the tale, presented in SD (8:00)
  • Music Videos (3:39 and 3:32)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:19)

A/V Out.

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[Blu-ray] | [Amazon Video]

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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