Despite the title, the young protagonists and the pretty animation of sea animals, Watanabe Ayumu's Children of the Sea
is probably not something you'd show your children. Based on Igarashi Daisuke's manga Kaiji no Kodomo
, the confounding animated fantasy feature is from Studio 4°C, the makers of Tekkon Kinkreet
, Mind Game
. The film starts out like a sensitive story about discovering friendship and the wonders of the ocean – and gradually morphs into a mind-blowing meditation on the meaning and mysteries of life itself.
Children of the Sea begins with protagonist Ruka getting into a fight at soccer practice and being forced out of her summer club activity. The moody girl then takes refuge at the aquarium where her father works. She befriends two strange boys, Umi and Sora, who were raised by dugongs (marine mammals similar to manatees) and are now the subjects of research at the aquarium. Unaccustomed to life on land, Umi and Sora have a mystical connection with the sea, a connection that Ruka also increasingly feels. As odd incidents involving marine animals pop up around the world, Umi and Sora's time in this world also seems to be running out.
There is an adventure aspect to the film when the protagonists run away from the reach of the adults who want to control them, but their aquatic odyssey goes far beyond escaping the world of the adults. The call of the sea brings the children to a whole other dimension that invokes the balance between humans and nature and reflects on the totality of existence. Children of the Sea goes full-on metaphysical near the end in a psychedelic climax that invites you to apply whatever you learned in Psychology 101 and Philosophy 101 to try to figure out what the heck is happening. Without the benefit of five volumes of manga, the film version of Children of the Sea undoubtedly lost a lot of exposition that would have better explained its dense mystery. However, it's hard to imagine that a story of this nature was ever meant to make that much conventional sense.
Where Children of the Sea undeniably excels is in its evocative presentation. Whether it's a journey into the dreamy, watery world of children and sea creatures – or a swirling vortex into the deepest recesses of your mind – the animation is hauntingly beautiful and a delight to watch. Also excellent, of course, is the score by Hisaishi Joe.
Children of the Sea understandably divides audiences due to its abstract themes and opaque narrative. If you're hoping to reach the same enlightening realization as the characters do, good luck. But if you're just there for the underwater ride, Children of the Sea takes you to beautiful and unexpected places.