This Korean animated production is a mostly low-key and bittersweet story of childhood fears and fantasies. Twelve-year-old Namoo lives with his grandmother and widowed mother, and his only friends are chubby schoolmate Jun-ho and his cat Yeo. Namoo is an introspective kid familiar with disappointment; “Things go away too soon,” he says, thinking of his late father and the fact that his pal Jun-ho is about to move to Seoul. To escape, he takes refuge in a fantasyland in the sky inhabited by a giant dog and an elusive sprite named Mari. Fantasy and reality merge when Namoo learns that he can share his trips into the sky with Jun-ho.
This may sound like kiddie fare, but director Seong-kang Lee’s visuals are subtle and playful, a combination of realism and Asian kitsch, and his depiction of adolescent awkwardness is insightful. Although there’s a contrast between the mundane earthbound scenes and the freewheeling sequences with Mari, the style is consistently muted, like a dozy daydream.
Unfortunately, the fantasy sequences don’t amount to much; it’s clear that Namoo is ripe for escapist adventures, but his time in cloudland is spent drifting around and pursuing the mysterious Mari with no developing dangers or complications. There are no revelations, and how this dream world reflects or fulfills his earthly longings isn’t clear. Mari works best as a colorful mood piece, capturing that time in one’s life when it may seem as though anything’s possible. And though it’s a slight story, it does manage to conjure a lingering sadness.
In Korean with English subtitles. Showing at 4 p.m., Sunday, April 10, at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237).
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com.