Okja is my first review on this site for a film that I did not see at the cinema and that on its own gives me incredibly mixed feelings about the health of the Cinema. The film, financed by Netflix has received a limited cinema release the same day as it became available on the streaming service. So limited in the UK that I am unable to seek it out, especially when I already pay for Netflix. More about my thoughts on this state of affairs at the end of this review, but lets talk about the film because it is very much worth talking about.
Written and directed by Boon Joon Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) Okja starts out as a live action My Neighbour Totoro and ends as a call to arms for vegetarians everywhere. Okja is a super pig, created by the Mirando Corporation to address world hunger. Led by CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) they aim to spin a heartless corporation into a caring one with a publicity stunt where they send 26 super pigs to different farmers across the world. The pig sent to Korea becomes Mija’s (Seo-Hyun Ahn) companion and the opening scenes are set in idyllic mountain side locations where we watch them bonding. Anyone who has seen My Neighbour Totoro will see the comparisons straight away, a giant super cute animal making odd noises bonding with a small girl, its a sweet introduction that makes you care about an animal intended for slaughter.
As Mija and Okja’s tale unfolds we are also introduced to Paul Dano’s Eco warrior Jay and Jake Gyllenhaal’s utterly crazy performance as a TV personality Johnny Wilcox. The film is almost worth watching for his performance alone. Check out his character poster that I have included here for evidence of this.
The subjects of ethical practices, genetically modified foods and companionship wrapped up in a quirky, sometimes crazy and original world view make for a really thought provoking film that is well worth a watch.
But coming back to my comments at the beginning, how you can watch this film is very much limited to your home cinema. Unless you happen to be near a Curzon screen in the UK (6 of their 10 screens being in London). My issue with this is that mainstream cinema is now unwilling to take risks on original film makers with original visions. It is too dangerous for them to distribute this sort of film when they know they can make money with more generic fare. As someone who sees around 100 films a year at the cinema I still arguably only see mainstream films, borne out by the fact that critics like Mark Kermode’s best of lists often feature films never distributed at a cinema near me.
A state of affairs that means a director stung by the handling of his most recent film, Snowpiercer will turn to a streaming service. Where arguably more people will see it, but not on the big screen, where it would look best.