In Bong Joon-Ho’s newest film, Okja, it is a tale that delights with an undying friendship between a child and a giant-pig that reminisces off the imagination of Spielberg’s most beloved films, but never without fails to interweave it with dark undertones that commentates on our burgeoning capitalist society that profits horrifyingly off a meat-industry, fuelled by human consumerism.
Opening up in the mountains of South Korea, we meet young Mija and her giant-pig, Okja – as they run freely through the forests – (one moment is especially an endearing homage to My Neighbour Totoro) – and it is a whimsical, sweet depiction of their relationship which exhibits the strength of their connection. Away from the city and others who begin to interfere with their relationship, this is when the film is at its most aesthetically gorgeous; the display of peacefulness within the natural world depicts how animal and human can live in tranquil unison on a platform of understanding.
The jolted reality of the outside world is soon realised, and it is here that Joon-Ho finds a perfect balance between his English and Korean multi-language platforms – highlighting the miscommunication between languages and people, as well as the bizarre foreignness of the cities of both Seoul and New York City. The signature tonal shifts are at its craziest in this wild ride, that sees it constantly shifting between the comedic with hilarious chase scenes (a girl running away in horror but never forgetting to bring out her selfie stick comes to mind), to shockingly bleak scenes (and occasionally graphic) that condemn the brutal, apathetic nature of humanbeings that substitutes wealth for empathy.
Watching this in a cinema brought to the forefront the dapper camerawork by cinematographer Darius Khondji – who captures the crisp swiftness of the absurd Mirando presentations, but also finds a place for the grimier realities of the slaughterhouses that draws in the darkest elements of the film that make it impossible to dismiss Okja as a purely optimistic film. Although it stars a wide-eyed child at its centre, Okja doesn’t shy away from a satirisation of its ridiculous self-obsessed figures (both Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal impress with a top-notch act of swivelling between playfully immature and disturbing characters), or depicting the messy ideals of activist groups (led by Jay, played by Paul Dano). Both Mija and Okja become caught up in the web of diverse interests, where the solution is unclear but the problem is most overt.
While the film mildly falls into a trap of a too-neat ending and slightly didactic messages, it always retains a hint of tongue-in-cheek glee or an underlying pessimism – suggestive of the continuing callousness of our society. But in almost the entirety of Joon-Ho’s burstingly clever directional vision, he always holds tight onto Mija and Okja’s special bond as the heart of his film, and the pay-off is a cinematic treat for the ages.
Okja will be showing on Netflix Worldwide from 28 June 2017.