Camera Japan Rotterdam 2023 Review: GOLD KINGDOM AND WATER KINGDOM
Watanabe Kotono's debut feature is sumptuous but with moments of sickly sweetness.
A flashy and funny intro tells the sorry history of two countries constantly in war with each other, to the point that the two are divided by a huge wall to at least keep some sort of uneasy peace. What's problematic is that the poorest country is based around a large lake, while the rich country is in the desert. The rich country prevents trade to the other, the poor prevents water from flowing out. Both are starving each other to death by doing so.
Literally the only contact between the two countries is a generational peace offering, agreed upon centuries ago: the gold country needs to send its fairest maiden to marry the smartest man of the water country. Both countries have no intention of holding the peace though, and choose an unwanted heavy little princess and a failed scholar. They also send a dog and a cat as an extra insult, but by sheer coincidence (this is a fairytale after all...) the two pets cause the two humans, called Sarah and Naranbayar, to meet and like each other. Together, they concoct a plan to ward off the oncoming war and start a proper friendship between the countries. But how do you do that when diplomacy is forbidden, even punishable by death?
What is immediately noticeable about the film is that it is gorgeous. The set-up of the story is nice and the "mission impossible" which the two starcrossed lovers choose for themselves is a fun one. Bonus points are gathered by having several of the side characters act in unexpected fashion, and one of them is a seriously kick-ass character: the niqab-clad ninja Lailala, who doubles as a creepy opponent and an even creepier omnipresent helper, a visual gag which never grows old. But at key points in the story, the narrative trips over predictability, and especially the romantic misunderstanding gets very old near the end. You see, Sarah and Naranbayar each think they are using the other as an actor playing the part, not realizing that Sarah really was put forward as the fairest maiden and Naranbayar really was put forward as the smartest man. Oh, the unnecessary suffering... Oh, the sweet realization when, at the worst and most dangerous moment, they find out... There was an audible exasperated groan in the venue (and it wasn't me, honest...). Then again, I'm not familiar with the source material so maybe it couldn't be helped.
It's a pity because Gold Kingdom and Water Kingdom is a fun enough film, beautifully animated and with several laugh-out-loud moments. But its dependency on tropes works against it, and the ending is so sweet it may damage the enamel on your teeth.
Gold Kingdom and Water Kingdom
- Kotono Watanabe
- Nao Iwamoto
- Fumi Tsubota
- Kento Kaku
- Minami Hamabe
- Banjô Ginga