My Beautiful Girl, Mari Review

South Korea is not a nation noted for its animation films, so the release this year of My Beautiful Girl, Mari, a beautiful computer generated 3D animation feature from Korea, comes as a very pleasant surprise. The film is all the more remarkable because it has found its own style and voice and is not tied to the conventions that are becoming more predictable and repetitive in US and Japanese animation.

My Beautiful Girl, Mari tells the story a young boy, Namoo (or Nam-woo) who lives in a sleepy little sea-side town. After the death of his father, his mother takes on a new boyfriend, his grandmother is quite ill and his best friend, Jun-ho is about to leave to go to senior school in the big city, Seoul. The carefree days of childhood seem to be coming to an end, life seems to hold many changes in store and Namoo is having difficulty dealing with this. He discovers a magical marble in a toy store which, when he visits the top of an old abandoned lighthouse, transports him to an enchanted fantasy land where he floats on clouds, rides on the back of fantastic creatures and meets the mysterious, ethereal girl called Mari, who floats tantalisingly just out of his grasp.

The film beautifully and subtly captures that confusing period of adolescence, the growing awareness of the adult world, the attraction of girls, the loss of innocence and fear of the changes that life holds in store. The discovery of a comfortable, safe enchanted world, opened up to Namoo from the top of an old lighthouse is used as an expression of their desire to retreat from the worries, fears and insecurities of adolescence. A Freudian psychologist could have a field day with the material presented here. It’s a theme that has been well-explored in film, from The Wizard of Oz to Labyrinth, but My Beautiful Girl, Mari will strike a chord with an older audience because of the perspective it takes in looking back at childhood from an adult’s point of view.

The animation is superb. Using the most basic software tools, Macromedia Flash and various Adobe products (Illustrator/Photoshop etc.), My Beautiful Girl, Mari, while never likely to challenge the output of Pixar and Dreamworks, shows that fresh, independent and original computer animation can be produced outside the major US animation studios. It avoids (perhaps through necessity) attempts at photo-realism and instead creates a world that is like a mixture of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro (with its glorious evocation of childhood and nature) and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life. All black outlines have been removed creating a soft, smooth cell-animation style that blends perfectly with the 3D effects that are used throughout. Subtleties however have not been sacrificed for simplicity and there is some superb play with light and clouds and clever simulation of underwater effects.

A digital transfer of the film would have been nice, but a few white specks and marks indicate that this is transferred from a film negative. These are barely noticeable however and the print is almost immaculate. It is transferred at 1.85:1 and is anamorphic.

A slow judder can be seen frequently in simulated camera pans (simulated obviously since no the film is computer generated and no cameras are used). This seems to be an effect of the software used and nothing to do with NTSC 3:2 pull-down, since there are many other instances of smooth movement, particularly in the beautiful opening scene of a seagull soaring over the skyline of Seoul. The judder effect can be quite unsettling however and rather sore on the head, particularly early on in the film. The resolution of the NTSC format does lead to some very slight flicker between the lines if the film is viewed on a large screen.

Optional English subtitles are available for the main feature and provide a good and readable translation.

The sound quality of the DVD is excellent. A Dolby Digital and a DTS 5.0 soundtrack are included on the DVD, both in the original language of Korean. Voices are strong and clear and principally on the centre speaker. The film makes use of the surrounds only occasionally for sound effects, but really comes into play with the beautiful and atmospheric but sometimes syrupy musical score for the film – a mixture of aquatic electronic rhythms and haunting and emotional sweeping string arrangements.

Frustratingly, although all the menus on the DVD for extras are in English only, none of the actual extra features have English subtitles.
A full-length feature commentary is provided in Korean. No English subtitles.
Making Documentary (15:43)
This is a substantial look at the various factors involved in making a digital animation movie. Still of value even without English subtitles.
Character in My Beautiful Girl, Mari
A paragraph of information on each of principal characters in the film. In Korean only.
Cast & Crew
Korean text only, photographs of the voice actors are placed beside the animation characters they play.
Production Note
Details on the creation of the characters, the technical 3D effect process, backgrounds, colours and locations. Text is in Korean, illustrated with stills.
No English subtitles here either, but none are really needed to enjoy the Theatrical trailer (2.02), TV spot (0.31), and two Music Videos (4.05 and 5.01), all of which are presented letterboxed with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A film Poster is also included here. You can see the trailer and music videos on the Official Web-site.
Pre-Mari theater 1-8
Probably the most worthwhile extra for anyone who doesn’t speak Korean. This seems to be early pre-production preliminary test animation and sketches. Each of the 8 segments is between a minute and two minutes long and is presented within a framed letterbox with an anamorphic switch that stretches the image. Parts 1 – 5 show silent scenes with musical accompaniment of the older Nam-woo wandering through Mari’s dream-world and tend to suggest a kind of epilogue to the main feature. Part 6 has some fun with the dream-world characters. Part 7 show how real-life actors and locations were referenced for rendering into 3D animation. Part 8 contains the obligatory spoof outtakes, complete with clapper-board and a very funny scene of Mari on wires before they have been ‘painted out’.

My Beautiful Girl, Mari is the kind of film that will resonate deeply with some people, touching at a subconscious level with its subtle use of imagery and symbolism. Others will be simply puzzled and bewildered by what is going on. No-one however will fail to be astounded by the beauty of animation and the emotions it represents and evokes. In terms of content, style and presentation, this is simply one of the best animation films you are likely to find anywhere.

My Beautiful Girl, Mari can be obtained from the following recommended on-line specialists in Korean DVD - YeonDVD, DVDAsian

9 out of 10
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