I’m not going to try and write a detailed review of Kaijuu no Kodomo. In part because this post is hardly time-sensitive with the movie having come out a year ago (and in January on Blu-ray), but mostly because the thought of trying is rather overwhelming. It’s a lovely piece of work in so many ways, but thematically it’s a diabolical tangle. Even the manga this movie is based on is inscrutable to an extent, and the movie cut out at least half the source material. The result is visually stunning but as far as plot goes, pretty much indecipherable.
You knew Children of the Sea was not going to be a mass-produced model. Igarashi Daisuke’s manga is an award-winner and rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful ever created. Stellar director Watanabe Ayumu is at the helm for Studio 4C, one of the most accomplished and groundbreaking in the medium. And the score is by Joe Hisashi, who many anime fans know through his work with Ghibli (especially Miyazaki) but whose sterling career is far larger than that. All of those things promise a film that’s a feast for the senses, and Kaijuu no Kodomo is every inch that.
The problem comes with the plot, which was frankly never Igarashi’s strongest element to begin with but at least in the manga, was fascinating in a freeform sort of way. This was one of the first manga I ever truly fell for, reading it in licensed form – I loved how resolutely different it was from anything I’d seen in Western comics. But Igarashi’s story has a spine of cultural exploration – Umi and Sora, the titular children of the sea, are not merely a couple of kids raised by dugongs under water. Through the boys Igarashi explores origin myths from myriad cultures across the globe, highlighting the striking similarities in so many of them. And this is what he brings together in what amounts to the final half-hour of the movie, except in the manga you can almost understand it.
So much detail is missing – background of the side characters like Anglade and Dede, those all-important origin stories – that the ending of the film plays like a psychedelic amalgam of Kubrick and Malick (hey, you could do worse), but which never makes any real attempt to have a tangible narrative. It’s trippy, it’s absorbing, it’s gorgeous – but it probably doesn’t mean anything unless you’re chemically enhanced at the time of viewing. The manga isn’t exactly a breeze in this sense, but an attentive reader does at least have a fighting chance of making sense of it.
With that said, though… Kaijuu no Kodomo is gorgeous. The film is extremely faithful to Igarashi’s visual style in a totally successful way. It’s a riot of colors, of shadings, or gorgeous seascapes and strange but unforgettable faces and the slightly ramshackle charm of coastal Kanagawa. Hisashi’s score is appropriately hypnotic and dreamlike, and Watanabe really tells more of the a story with the images than he does with dialogue. I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that Kaijuu no Kodomo is one of the most beautiful animated films ever made.
That said, there is one line of dialogue from the film that really stays with me, and comes as close as any to capturing the essence of Igarashi’s story. Dede (a sailor) tells heroine Ruka that “The wind contains all the memories of the sea. By replacing it with words, we created and passed on songs and poems. But with words you can only capture a tiny fraction of the wind – like sails.” This somehow catches the vast idea that Igarashi is trying to communicate here – our tiny, ephemeral place in a universe which we are part and parcel or right down to our tiniest organic building blocks. We are, as Carl Sagan said, “star stuff” – and we will always return to the endless sea of time from which we were created.