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My Beautiful Girl Mari (Mari Iyagi)

ADV Films // Unrated // July 5, 2005
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted August 6, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Movie: As a DVD reviewer and long time fan of animation, I sometimes "get lucky" in seeing a lot of titles I wouldn't otherwise take a chance on that turn out to be fantastic. On the other hand, I also get stuck with a lot of junk that has been praised endlessly by scores of "professional" critics that have either lost touch with what most audiences like or never had it to begin with. That said, I also run into a lot of fans that think the term "anime" is a very narrowly defined concept, precluding any material not made solely in Japan (where I'm told the general opinion is that all animation is considered anime). Today's review is of a little known independent movie called My Beautiful Girl Mari (Mari Iyagi) that tries something new with the concept of anime, as the debut release by Korean director Seong-kang Lee.

While not a traditional anime release in the classic sense, I found it to be true to the spirit of the format and an interesting diversion to say the least. The movie is a so-called slice of life adventure that centers on a young boy in Korea, Nam-woo. He has only a single friend in life, Jun-ho, and the story uses the traditional flashback approach to revisit the past as it relates to the present in a slowly paced story that allows the viewer a lot of room to interpret the events, past and present, using their own background. Here's what the official website said about the story:

"Once in a lifetime, love becomes a fairytale.
A secluded seaside village.
Namoo is a twelve-year-old boy who has lost his father and lives with his grandmother and mother.
His only friends are Junho, who is the same age as he is, and Yeo, his cat.
One day in the stationary store in front of his school, Namoo discovers a mysterious shining marble.
He thinks about it all night, and the next day he runs to the store to buy it, but is disappointed to find that it is gone.
Namoo and Yeo are playing near the old lighthouse when Yeo runs inside.
Namoo follows the cat in and is wandering around when he discovers the mysterious marble on a shelf.
The instant a beautiful light shines through the marble, the interior of the lighthouse is suddenly transformed into a world of fantasy. Namoo is about to fall into nothingness when a girl covered in white takes hold of his hand and lifts him up. A world of beautiful light and fantasy opens up beneath them.
The next day, Namoo tells Junho about the adventure, but Junho is incredulous. So they visit the lighthouse together and see Mari.
After that, the two boys share the beautiful secret together. But while the boys continue their wonderful encounters with Mari, Namoo's grandmother collapses from illness and their village is engulfed by a storm and Junho's father falls in danger..."

This is one of those rare movies where I could provide a virtual screenplay of what was said and detail the glorious visuals of the show without spoiling anything for you. The metaphors and allegories behind the specifics of the movie all tell a tale of a boy that never truly grew up (the movie starts off in present day where Nam-woo and Jun-ho are discussing their plans to go their separate ways yet again) and had to learn to deal with loss and love predating the story with the death of Nam-woo's father. The magic marble was the mulligan to transport Nam-woo into his fantasy world and whether or not he actually went there is left up to the viewer. The pacing was incredibly slow and the resulting ending somewhat iffy but I can't deny that the movie was very special in terms of the visuals and auditory experience offered. Did the story live up to the hype espoused on the front and back cover of the DVD case? Well, in fairness, this movie is one of the kinds that you'll either love, or hate, depending on what you like to watch with no middle ground to speak of.

Unlike the giant robots, science fiction battles, sword & sorcery or even light hearted comedy anime, this one used the deliberate pacing in a manner best compared to the themes of Our Town in what it reminded me of. While I don't deny the quality of the production on any level, I'd be misleading you if I suggested My Beautiful Girl Mari (Mari Iyagi) was as appealing as more accessible movies (of all types). If your idea of a good time is watching a series of beautiful paintings barely related to one another flow with a pleasing soundtrack, this will be the gem you've been looking for but if you want something with more substance, you'll look elsewhere. In all though, I think it was easily worth suggesting as a Rent It first, followed by your complete dismissal of my opinion (in either direction) when you see if it works for you.

Picture: My Beautiful Girl Mari was presented in a 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen by ADV Films. The movie was completely computer generated but looked like a lot more work went into it than most entire series of traditional anime with a muted but incredibly complex color palette to showcase some beautiful visual elements. I saw no compression artifacts or video noise with minimal problems (there was some pattern noise in a couple of scenes) throughout the movie. If you look at the front DVD cover, you could be convinced that the animation used was two dimensional but seeing it in action will change your mind quickly that this was much more than that; to the point where it was almost good enough looking to overlook the pacing and story issues for a recommendation.

Sound: The audio for My Beautiful Girl Mari (Mari Iyagi) was presented with a traditional choice of the original Korean or an English language dub, each done up in style with a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround presentation. Each track offered an auditory palette similar to the visuals here with a haunting score, clear, crisp vocals, and a blend of effects that furthered the unique style of the movie. I'm no subtitle snob so it was interesting to hear the depth and complexity of the show (a friend has been asking for a soundtrack having watched it with me; the ultimate compliment in my book). The English language subtitles seemed reasonably close to the dub track for those who care too.

Extras: The only extras included in the ADV Films release were some trailers and a double sided DVD cover. A cursory check online showed me that the Region 3 release was jam packed with great material but it was all in Korean so fans of the movie will probably want ADV to re-release this one as a special edition to caption the extras and include them in a future release (another reason why I rated this as a rent it folks).

Final Thoughts: My Beautiful Girl Mari (Mari Iyagi) was easily one of the most attractive looking anime movies I've ever seen and the audio was also extremely well done but the story, while touching, was too sentimental and open ended for my tastes. If you'd be satisfied with the style over substance, by all means you should pick up a copy of this bare bones release. If you're more demanding of your movies, you might want to at least heed my warning and check this one out first, deciding whether or not it makes your grade to purchase. Aside from winning awards and winning critical accolades though, a lot of people watching this will likely find it boring so don't get too comfortable in your easy chair when watching it or you might find yourself asleep in no time.

If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk

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