When Judge Joel Pearce was a kid, he had an invisible friend named Todd who not only wasn't a beautiful girl, but smoked cigarettes, spewed profanity, and got him in trouble for a variety of mischief he didn't even cause. With an invisible friend like that, who needs an invisible enemy?
More real than a fairy tale…More wondrous than first love…
My Beautiful Girl Mari is one of those films that I have meant to see for a long time, but have always put off picking up. Now that I have finally seen it, I wish I had tracked down an import DVD sooner. It is a beautiful coming-of-age story, simply told with warmth and imagination. The good news is, we don't have to search for import DVDs anymore. ADV Films has released it in North America on a stunning (if bare bones) edition.
Facts of the Case
Most of us can look back on one summer when everything changed. For Nam-woo, it was the summer when his best friend, Jun-ho, moved away to Seoul. His grandmother got sick, and his mother became involved with a new boyfriend even though Nam-woo was still grieving the death of his father.
In trying to deal with these changes and challenges, Nam-woo fell into a world of dreams, imagining a safer, more exciting place in his mind. There, he met a silent girl named Mari, who gave him the strength he needed to face the harsh realities of his burgeoning adulthood.
It's almost impossible to find family entertainment that is this beautiful, simple, deep, and thoughtful. My Beautiful Girl Mari is reminiscent of Miyazaki's best work, playing out much like Whispers of the Heart and My Neighbor Totoro. It is about more than the magic of childhood, though, also dealing with the loss of dreams through adulthood and the way that we change over time. By framing the childhood story with the adult Nam-woo, we get to see that his memories of that summer and the imaginary world that he escaped to have almost completely faded for him, even though they were more vivid than reality at the time. My Beautiful Girl Mari also acknowledges that the challenges that children have to face are genuinely tough. So many family movies gloss over the hardships of life, afraid to admit to kids that solutions to real problems are never easy. In this film, the loss of Nam-woo's father is real.
Even without the bookends, My Beautiful Girl Mari perfectly captures what it's like to be a young dreamer. The imaginary world that Nam-woo creates for himself is unique and detailed, formed out of the mundane objects and locations around him. The experiences of Nam-woo aren't strange or unusual, and his flights of fancy are also straightforward. What makes the film so delightful is the unique way that this familiar story has been told. I suspect a lot of us had some object that we used as a launching point for imagination, even after we began to realize that we would soon need to enter the adult world. The existence of Mari in the world that Nam-woo creates is proof that he will not be a child for long. The two are drawn to each other, even though he hasn't yet admitted to himself that he is interested in girls. And yet, he realizes that they cannot be together. She is different than the girls he knows in the real world, and affectionate in a way they haven't become yet.
Although the story and themes are similar to other family films, the animation is unlike anything else I have ever seen. Using a smooth mix of computer images and hand-drawn art, it looks like one of those acrylic paintings they hang in cheap restaurants come to life. Although the characters look simple, their movements and expressions are well-drawn and detailed. The gray world of the present gives way to Nam-woo's colorful world of his childhood, which then gives way to the beautiful world of imagination, full of even brighter colors. Over the course of My Beautiful Girl Mari, the worlds of memories and of dreams start to blend together. A climactic storm is both beautiful and mystical, and I cannot say with certainty how much of it is real. Ultimately, I don't think there's much difference between our childhood memories and the dreams that stay with us into adulthood, and this film is full of both.
The disc is finely produced, doing justice to the stunning animation and sound design. Some of the CGI has a lower frame rate than the rest of the film, but everything else looks spectacular. The colors are dead-on and there are no visible compression flaws, even when there is a lot of movement in the large blocks of color. The sound transfer is beautiful, with subtle and effective use of surrounds, delicate music, and clear dialogue. I generally ignore dub tracks, but they're unavoidable for family films. While there is some creative translation in the Dolby 5.1 English track, the voices are well-timed and appropriate. It's one of the best dubs I have heard from ADV. The original Korean track is also presented in Dolby 5.1, which is a pleasant change, and the subtitles are free from errors.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint with this package is the complete lack of extras. With such a unique animation style, some interviews or construction footage would have been appreciated, as well as a few cultural notes about that era in Korea.
If you love thoughtful and delightful family films, it's hard to go wrong with My Beautiful Girl Mari. Combining gorgeous animation with a story that doesn't treat children like morons, it's a fine choice for families. While more extras would have been an asset, ADV has delivered a very impressive transfer and translation. If you have fond memories of childhood imagination, make sure you don't miss this film. I found this a hard review to write, because My Beautiful Girl Mari was able to reach me on a level that I can't explain with words. You can consider that the highest praise possible.
Nam-woo has taken us on a journey that I will gladly repeat and share with others. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
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