Despite its title, this (unfortunately) isn’t Japan’s answer to Aquaman.
“Fully farmed pacific bluefin tuna is Japan’s sacred duty.”
Tuna is something of a big deal in Japan. I mean, it’s pretty big all over the world but Japan has something of a reputation, even notoriety when it comes to the fish. It was just this year that one was sold for $3 million, and with its versatility in dishes and the popularity of Japanese food abroad its popularity isn’t likely to die down soon – which certainly doesn’t help when it comes to overfishing.
Thankfully, there are people dedicated to providing farmed tuna: the ecological alternative to potentially destructive fishing. This is where our lead comes in. Minami (Fuka Koshiba) is a student whose passion is tuna – notably the raising of said fish. She is accepted into a summer research camp for biology students, but her clumsy (if extremely upbeat) nature sometimes clashes with that of the ret of students. She posts on social media, gains followers, but loses a boyfriend in the process. But who cares. This film isn’t about that. It’s about tuna.
Tuna Girl is a film split in two, and both halves seem distinctly divorced from one another in a way I wasn’t quite expecting. When we’re first introduced to the characters the movie plays out a lot like a documentary or reality show, with normal dialogue exchanged for explanatory speeches on the various aspects of tuna farming and plenty of on-text screen emphasising all of the points made by the characters.
This, unfortunately, comes at the expense of the plot and character development which takes something of a back seat during this first half, with the students being used less to tell any kind of story and more to just give us the rundown on what goes on at tuna farms. This wouldn’t be huge issue – after all, many infotainment products get by on this style of filmmaking – if not for the second half of Tuna Girl, which decides to double down on drama after a live stream goes wrong.
This leads to a string of other small dramas, none of which really matter because by this point you’re so invested in the tuna that the lives of these people don’t really register. Tuna Girl could have been a lot better than it was, which is frustrating. The informative stuff is great, and with a running time not even scraping 90 minutes, it’s obvious the personal drama could have been expanded on too. The cast are charming, and exude that energy you expect from these sort of quirky Japanese comedies, but as it is it just feels like an extended pilot to a TV drama no one cared about enough to greenlight.
Ultimately, Tuna Girl isn’t really bad, nor is it particularly good. It’s pleasant enough but feels more like it cares more about educating us on fish than actually being a film. And to that end, it’s pretty educational. I definitely wouldn’t know what a rag worm was if not for this film. But otherwise it’s rather forgettable, and once again Google had to come to my help in reminding me of character names and even some of the details of the plot, even with my notes. As it stands, Tuna Girl could have done with a little less tuna, and a lot more girl.
Verdict: Perfectly fine, if a little dull, Tuna Girl is cute but it just never knows what it wants to be.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Violence: Some dead fish/10
Sex: Some mating fish/10
Tuna-related matters: 10/10
Non-tuna-related matters: 1/10
Diamonds of the sea: Better than the Western “chickens of the sea”
Tuna Girl (2019)
Also known as: TUNAガール
Director: Yasuda Mana
Fuka Koshiba – Minami
Tom Fujita – Sudo
Hidetoshi Hoshida – Teacher