Size / / /
</p>
<p>Song of the Sea poster

Five years ago, Irish director Tomm Moore came seemingly out of nowhere to grab a Best Animated Feature Film nomination at the Academy Awards for his debut feature, The Secret of Kells (co-directed with Nora Twomey). Watching the film left me deeply impressed with its beautiful visuals and unique atmosphere, but I also felt that it was somewhat too deeply embedded within its local historical and folkloristic context; the screening I attended was preceded by a lecture that explained just what The Book of Kells is, something I suspect that I couldn't have understood from watching the film itself, thus missing the film's main layer of significance.

In his second feature, Song of the Sea (which is already being hyped as a strong contender for next year's Best Animated Feature Film Oscar), Moore appears to have found the right balance between a story that is deeply rooted in his country's culture and at the same time is also universally humane and touching. This story, told with the same visual beauty as Moore's previous feature, makes Song of the Sea a triumph.

At the beginning of the film, protagonist Ben is a very young child whose mother, Bronagh, teaches him the love of Irish folk tales, especially those dealing with the Selkies, the seals who turn into women. But Bronagh dies shortly after giving birth to Ben's younger sister Saoirse. Several years later, Saoirse grows into a sickly, mute child whom Ben holds a grudge against, blaming her for their mother's death. A near-accident involving Saoirse's weird behavior causes her and Ben's grandmother to take them away from their home at the lighthouse near the coast—where their grieving father still mourns the loss of their mother—to the big city, a place that Ben deeply dislikes. He comes up with a plan to run away and return to his father's house, and his sister insists on tagging along. As it turns out, both children face a mission of greater importance than simply going back home.

Song of the Sea is a fairy tale of my favorite kind—the kind that does not promote a belief in fairies, but rather treats fairies as a metaphor for the magic that exists in everyday life. The divide between modern, urban, industrialized culture and the traditional life on the seaside where nature still reigns supreme is presented in the film in a subtle enough manner that it does not feel preachy, and yet it delivers the message. Everywhere in Ireland, the film tells us, are the things that make it a magical place of natural and historical beauty, and if we look closely enough we can also see them beneath the modern surface. Moore's film does not carry an anti-modern statement but rather warns against turning our backs on tradition and what it represents, a warning perhaps best exemplified in its chief antagonist—who isn't really a bad person, just a misguided one.

This story about the beauty of tradition is gently and skillfully woven into the character drama that drives the film, which at its heart is a family story. Ben, the angry protagonist, finds solace in the stories told to him by his mother without realizing that his sister, whom he hates, is the realization of these stories; in a similar manner, Ben's father turns his back to the magic of the same stories in his grief over the loss of his wife, not realizing that this magic was a part of his wife's very essence. Though an argument can be made against the film for marginalizing its female characters to a certain extent, Song of the Sea also places these characters in an interesting context that shows how in Irish folk tales women are empowered while in the modern world they are muted and pushed aside.

Moore delivers the story with the same design style featured in The Book of Kels, which is reminiscent of illustrated children's books. Characters and landscapes are given a simple look, generally low on details, but this doesn't, in any way, imply the characters' simplicity. As in Moore's previous feature, Song of the Sea is a story told and viewed through the eyes of a young child, who sees all adults who surround him as giants, all cliffs as high mountains and all forces of nature as magical phenomenon. This view is brought to the screen beautifully in colorful and highly expressive visuals that give the film's story the feeling of a grand adventure—highlighted in a minor yet charming scene in which Ben draws a map while traveling from his home on the coast to the city with the intention of using it on his journey back. As the audience glimpses of the map, they get an idea of Ben's view of the world, in which landmarks such as "broken car" suddenly become significant monuments in their own right. It is in this single scene that the film made me fall utterly in love with it, for its ability to bring across its young protagonist's point of view so simply and yet so cleverly.

Watching Song of the Sea reminded me of several other animated works, but more than any other film I was reminded of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro (1988). Like Miyazaki's film, Song of the Sea is a magical story aimed at making the audience appreciate its reality, a nostalgic piece that also delivers a message about the present, and above all a deeply emotional work that is beautifully realized, both as a narrative and a visual feast. With Song of the Sea, Moore shows the potential to become the next director (following Miyazaki's recent announcement of retirement) that the animation world looks up to as its prominent filmmaker of beautifully sensitive masterpieces.

When he's not working on his PhD researching animation as a text, Raz Greenberg works as a content editor for an Internet company, and spends his time writing reviews, articles, and stories. His articles have appeared in Strange Horizons, Animated Views, RevolutionSF, and Salon Futura; his fiction has appeared in FutureQuake, Murky Depths, and Ray Gun Revival, and in several Hebrew genre magazines in his home country of Israel. In 2010, a short story by him was nominated for the Geffen Award, given by the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy.



Raz Greenberg divides his time between working as a content editor, lecturing on comics and animation in several academic institutes, writing reviews and articles for a variety of publications (Strange Horizons, Tablet Magazine, and All the Anime, among others), and writing fiction. He muses about overlooked genre classics at the Space Oddities Facebook page.
No comments yet. Be the first!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Current Issue
20 Jan 2020

By: Justin C. Key
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Justin C. Key's “One Hand in the Coffin.”
By: Jessica P. Wick
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Jessica P. Wick's “Sap and Superstition.”
I love the idea of representing folk stories and showcasing the culture of my country in a different way.
But I thought of apple skin clinging to a curve, yet unshaped by apple-sorcery.
Corey slipped his hand into the puppet’s back, like he had done many times with the doctor who made him talk about Michael and bathtubs and redness. His breath and stomach squeezed whenever he reached into dark, invisible places.
Wednesday: Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey 
Friday: Small Waiting Objects by T. D. Walker 
Issue 13 Jan 2020
By: Julianna Baggott
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Terese Mason Pierre
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Terese Mason Pierre
Issue 6 Jan 2020
By: Mitchell Shanklin
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 23 Dec 2019
By: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 16 Dec 2019
By: Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liu Chengyu
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 9 Dec 2019
By: SL Harris
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessy Randall
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 2 Dec 2019
By: Sheldon Costa
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mari Ness
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 25 Nov 2019
By: Nisa Malli
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Nisa Malli
Issue 18 Nov 2019
By: Marika Bailey
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Alicia Cole
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 11 Nov 2019
By: Rivqa Rafael
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Mary McMyne
By: Ugonna-Ora Owoh
Podcast read by: Mary McMyne
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 28 Oct 2019
By: Kelly Stewart
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Kelly Stewart
Monday: Aniara 
,
Load More
%d bloggers like this: