My Beautiful Girl, Mari -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A+

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: N/A
  • Age Rating: All
  • Region: 3 - Southeast Asia
  • Released By: Other
  • MSRP: 30
  • Running time: 80
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: My Beautiful Girl Mari

My Beautiful Girl, Mari

By Paul Grisham     May 26, 2003

My Beautiful Girl, Mari
© Other

What They Say
Released by: EnterOne

The Review!
Note, this DVD is coded for all regions and will play in any NTSC compatible DVD player.

It seems as though South Korea has always been involved with animation. Take a look at any American or Japanese cartoon, and you’ll likely see the name of some Korean studio or team of animators. My Beautiful Girl, Mari (Mari Iyagi), is hardly the first animated feature film to have been produced by a Korean creative staff, but with bold technical and aesthetic confidence, it seems to have arisen out of South Korea’s recent film renaissance utterly without precedent – the first South Korean animated film that demands to be considered among the classics of world animation.


The disc includes both Dolby 5.0 and DTS 5.0 versions. For purposes of this review, I only listened to the Dolby 5.0 track. The audio is rich and immersive. For the most part, the movie takes place in a small, coastal, fishing town, and the film is full of rich ambient noises. There isn’t a single scene that isn’t infused with the sounds of the sea and the wind. Although the technical specs do not list an LFE track, there is seemingly no lack of deepness to the audio. I would be curious to know if the DTS track is any superior to the excellent Dolby audio.


The film is presented in an anamorphic, progressive encode, and for the most part looks completely gorgeous. It’s a completely digital film, and I would have expected it to be a straight digital transfer, but there are a few specks that suggest that it might have been taken from a film master instead. Overall, however, the colors are rich and vibrant, and fine detail is exceptional. There is one minor glitch, during the film’s climax, when one scene is momentarily mis-framed, and it is the only thing keeping this transfer from a solid “A” rating.


The film comes in a standard keepcase, with the front cover featuring the gorgeous artwork from Mari’s world. The picture captures the surprising richness of the art design featured in this film, and is part of the reason I took a chance on the film in the first place. Most of the back cover is in Korean, although technical details and extras are listed in English.


The widescreen, anamorphic menus feature more of the fabulous background artwork from Mari’s world with ethereal background music playing, perfectly capturing the mood of the film. They are simply a joy to behold. Menus are mainly in English, so navigation is easy. Only some of the deeper submenus in the special features menu are in Korean, but even those are relatively easy to decipher, even if you don’t have any knowledge of the language. The design only loses points for using an odd cursor design that features bubbles covering the active menu item, and for not having selected audio and subtitle options clearly indicated.


If you can speak and read Korean (which I cannot), this disc features as rich a set of extras as one could hope for. The character profiles, cast and crew biographies, and production notes are simply static screens of Korean text, though the production notes section has some nice stills. The documentary and audio commentary are completely untranslated as well. The disc also features two music videos (with selectable karaoke subtitles) and non-anamorphic trailers, which are fun to watch, even without any knowledge of the language. The Pre-Mari promotional videos are also fun to watch, providing more insight into the production of the film. In all, a great set of extras, if you’re fluent, but still fun even if you’re not.

(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)

My Beautiful Girl, Mari opens with a scene of a seagull soaring over a bustling city, floating, flapping, gliding, eventually alighting on a winter-bare tree branch. Watching this bird in its long, slow decent into the world of man establishes several things about that movie that is to follow.

The first and most immediately obvious is that we are watching a very different kind of animated feature. My Beautiful Girl, Mari is completely computer rendered, without a single hand-drawn frame. But unlike such recent computer rendered films as Toy Story and Shrek, Mari’s visuals are reminiscent of traditional animation styles. Backgrounds have a detailed, painted appearance, but because they are rendered, scenes are more dynamic, the camera can move more freely throughout them, giving a sense of immersion. Character animation is cel-shaded, a technique that makes the 3D models resemble traditionally drawn and colored cel animation. Surprisingly, while the characters at first appear to lack detail, the technique allows for very fine control over facial expressions, leading to marvelously subtle “acting” by the characters. The coupling of detailed, semi-realistic backgrounds and flat, textureless character animation is a controversial choice, but one that works well within the scope of the story.

Although the opening scene is, at some level, a CG rendering demo reel, with more than a few nifty flourishes to demonstrate the capabilities of the software and animators, the scene is much more significant than that. With just the simple story of a gull traveling from the sea and into the city, sometimes drifting, sometimes determined, and eventually finding a resting point, the filmmakers have established the basic themes of the story elegantly and efficiently.

Nam-woo is a big city company employee, who is meeting his best friend from childhood, Jun-ho, for dinner. Nam-woo and Jun-ho have been too busy for each other, and have not seen each other for several years. They go through the routines of catching up and reminiscing before Jun-ho reveals that he is leaving the country to finish his studies, and that it will be several years before they will be able to see each other again. Before he leaves, he wanted to see Nam-woo once more and return something of his, an item out of their childhood that causes Nam-woo to remember, in clear, unbroken detail, the last summer they spent together as friends.

Nam-woo is the only child of the widowed restaurant owner in a small fishing village, a boy who spends his days daydreaming and adopting the stray cats of the neighborhood. He and his friend Jun-ho are in that in-between state between childhood and adolescence, the sad age of realization that the world can not remain as it does forever, and yet not yet strong enough or old enough to take control or responsibility of those changes. If Nam-woo is the dreamer, Jun-ho is the doer, less imaginative, less reflective, but more determined. Shortly after the end of the current school term, Jun-ho will be leaving the village for Seoul to study at a boarding school. The story follows them during the handful of days after school until Jun-ho must leave.

Gently interwoven into this story is the tale of the mysterious Mari and her world. Nam-woo, struggling to cope with the changes in his life begins to see fairies and strange creatures inexplicably mingled within his familiar world. He finally manages to capture the fairy in the form of a marble, and in the right state of mind, Nam-woo is able to travel across to a fairyland of strange flora and fauna where he meets Mari, a quiet and lonely girl who just might be Nam-woo’s mirror image.

The film itself is subtle and understated, leading many who watch the film to think that it’s a movie in which nothing much happens. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a story about great change, but rather than showing us the changes, we see only the effects of the change, a film inspired by the feelings of loss rather than the philosophy of losing. What Mari lacks is a clearly articulated revelation, the moment of clarity or Satori we might expect from an anime with more Japanese aesthetics. Instead, each viewer must take in the story individually and say to him or herself, “I remember feeling like that,” and it must simply be enough to feel.

For instance, when one of the local fishermen takes a fancy to Nam-woo’s mother, Nam-woo never talks openly of his feelings for this intruder in his life, but we sense his feelings based solely on body language and actions. He is not expressive or assertive enough to challenge the situation, the way that a thousand domestic melodramas have shown before. He handles it mainly the way that we would, with resentment, grief, and avoidance.

Nam-woo is a character in search of some form of permanence in a world of constant change. Taking in stray cats is but one manifestation of that desire, though the cats always wind up running off, leaving him alone again. We see Nam-woo’s world through those changes: the death of his father, the intrusion of the suitor, his grandmother’s illness, the demolition of the town’s old lighthouse, and most significantly, Jun-ho’s imminent departure for school. Mari and his dreams of her seem to offer the kind of stability he appears to be searching for, though even those are fleeting. Although Nam-woo has not fully matured into adolescence, his final scenes with Mari are perhaps the most deeply sexual and knowledgeable depictions of love and loss I’ve ever seen in a film appropriate for children.

At the end, Nam-woo must reflect on his own choices, on the effects of his own aimless drifting and fruitless searches for stability. He holds in his hand the memento of his childhood, a tiny token of permanence, but utterly removed of meaning, and he comes to the somewhat obvious realization that you really never can go home again. Everything changes. It is perhaps appropriate that the film ends without ending Nam-woo’s story, because it does not end. There is no simple choice or inspiration that will bring him happiness.

The result is a film that is an utter delight, a film of beauty and understanding touching us in the kinds of ways that poetry and music does, and one that rewards us over and over, even though we already know the words. It is thematically and narratively whole, though the film does not seem self-absorbed with itself. Instead, it seems as though the whole film is a template for us, as viewers, to write in our own details and our own answers. The film itself is well worth the investment of time and emotion, and this DVD release is worth adding to your collection. I must give My Beautiful Girl, Mari my highest possible recommendation.

Korean Language DTS 5.0,Korean Language Dolby Digital 5.0, Scene-Specific Audio Commentary,Korean Subtitles,English Subtitles,Making Of Documentary,Character Profiles,Cast & Crew Biographies,Technical Production Notes,TV Spot and Theatrical Trailer,Promotional Videos,Poster Art,Music Videos

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)


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