A tale about vulnerabilities and emotions in the inner world of two young girls in search of freedom and salvation…
The Goldfish: Dreaming of the Sea is the first feature film by the young Japanese actress Ogawa Sara. The movie represents the intimate and vulnerable atmosphere that is the inner world of the 18-year-old protagonist Hana (Ogawa Miyu), while gently detailing her past trauma and her desire for freedom and independence.
Hana is a high school girl living in a foster home after her mother was arrested for a horrible crime. Her life with her newfound family is idyllic and serene, and she seems like a stereotypical quiet and altruistic Japanese student with all the characteristics of a “good girl”. Perhaps because of her virtuous essence, she finds herself attracted to Harumi (Hanada Runa), a newcomer at the home who appears to be her exact opposite: headstrong, impatient and determined. Hana finds herself taking Harumi under her wing and protecting her like an older sister. The two girls begin a relationship based on mutual care and trust while trying to process their pain and free themselves from their trauma.
The reason for Hana’s attraction is that Harumi represents the inner troubles and feelings that she’s unable to express. Following her mother’s last wish that she be a “good girl” and maybe even because of her timid nature, Hana feels compelled to act virtuously. It doesn’t help that she’s considered the foster home’s big sister, and that as the oldest of the family, she must live with many responsibilities and be an example for the little ones. Hana’s world resembles a fish tank, like the one she keeps in her room, and she’s trapped by restrictions and expectations. She’s looking for a way to free herself from the heaviness that lives in her heart, just like the fish is dreaming of the sea.
Ogawa portrays Hana’s inner troubles by suggesting them little by little, and she never approaches them with strength and determination. Perhaps because of shyness, the shots, the colours, and the emotions are delicate and light, so the human ugliness remains unseen. Viewers are never shown the entirety of Hana’s or Harumi’s pain, only little pieces of it. Their scars remain private. Although change does occur, the tsunami of emotions that the viewers expect does not come. Hana leaves her “good girl” act just to save the little Harumi: it is a small act of rebellion that doesn’t even remotely show the real “freedom of feelings” that she has been desperately searching for throughout the film. It’s frustrating how you see the fish finally being able to swim into the sea, while Hana’s true emotions remain in the tank.
Director and writer Ogawa, who has previously helmed films for television, beautifully and respectfully, portrays the inner world of two girls who are searching for something, and she shows how they find it in each other. This is a tale of vulnerabilities and emotions. It’s a coming-of-age story that makes you wonder if all you need in life is someone to lay your problems on.