As the Grand Illusion continues to champion Asian animation, consistent themes and patterns begin to emerge. The Korean feature "My Beautiful Girl, Mari" may not qualify as anime by strict definition, but it shares much of the sad-happy sentiment of Makoto Shinkai's "The Place Promised in Our Early Days," which played at the Grand Illusion in June. Both deal with cherished memories of childhood, growing up, letting go of youth and moving on, with melancholy remembrance.
"My Beautiful Girl, Mari" also shares visual similarities with the elaborate fantasies of Hayao Miyazaki (whose influence is felt everywhere it seems), but the reveries of writer-director Lee Seong-kang, making his feature debut, have a more dreamlike quality.
Nam-woo and Jun-ho, 12-year-old friends in a seaside village, are transported to a fantasy paradise through the magic of a luminous marble and an abandoned lighthouse. With a sprite-goddess (the silent-but-lovely Mari), a gigantic fluffy dog and a flying green blowfish among its many wonders, this magical realm is not entirely satisfying on metaphorical terms.
Lee's 2-D and computer-aided animation can be flatly bland at times, with a Mantovani-like soundtrack that's poured on like syrup. And while familial subplots, schoolyard showdowns and a climactic sea storm feel somewhat detached from the narrative, the deep sense of longing that underlies this sweet-natured tale rings true — and that's more than you can say for recent mainstream fare like "Madagascar" and "Valiant."
Jeff Shannon: firstname.lastname@example.org