Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions.
Deep Sea is a chaotic journey with twists and turns that meditate on childhood and belonging. The movie is a chaotic combination of Turning Red and Spirited Away. As with some of the best-animated projects, this movie isn’t only for children. With stunning visuals and an emotional story at its core, this psychedelic journey is as impactful as it is breathtaking. This may not be a comfortable journey, but it’s one worth taking.
The movie is the story of a young girl Shenxiu (Wang Ting Wen), who finds herself on a boat with her family. When she’s mostly ignored by those who are supposed to love her most, she finds herself on a magically fantastic boat with a wild group of otherworldly characters. Along the way, Nanhe (Su Xin), a fast-talking chef, guides her way through this new world. This fantastical cruise ship/restaurant hybrid is full of tonnes of secrets.
Immediately, it must be said that the animation is spectacularly gorgeous. Each frame is so intricate and adds to the story overall. Each character’s distinct look could have been incredibly jarring and unsettling. Instead, the intricate design of each character adds a depth to them that grows the entire story. The ocean comes alive in a new way and provides a canvas for the characters to explore their respective journeys.
The main character, Shenxiu, is so incredibly sympathetic. Her family is never excused for neglecting her, even though it’s evidently easy to do. There’s a particularly heartbreaking piece to this story in watching Shenxiu‘s father revel in the joy of his second family while neglecting his first daughter. It’s just as heartbreaking to watch her mother brush her off in her most vulnerable moments. It’s easy to understand why there’s such a deep sadness in this character.
Deep Sea also has an understated horror tone that permeates the whimsy. This shift in tone could have devolved into camp in less capable hands. Director Xiaopeng Tian evidently has the vision to capture the best and worst of the human condition through the eyes of a child. This overwhelming task could not have been completed in less capable hands. Thankfully, this balance illustrates how universal this story is and how different people will interpret some things differently based on their own experiences.
The ending may be more than a little bit predictable. This doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. Nanhe was always meant to be the hero, as abrasive as he is throughout the story. The fact that his redemption arc is handled with such care is a testament to the strength of the overall story. Nanhe isn’t made into a kind of superhero, particularly in light of his actions and his overall attitude. What ultimately saves Shenxiu is Nanhe’s extraordinary act of bravery, a decision made in a single moment. This captures his heroism more than any fantastic ability ever could.
Deep Sea is a wild and heartfelt ride. It balances drama and horror with humour and whimsy. This balance is what makes the story engaging from beginning to end. This is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story about the human condition, illustrated against the backdrop of a gorgeous canvas. This story is an effective venue for viewers to meditate on sadness while being entertained by sweet, lovable, colourful characters. The trip is more than worth it.
Deep Sea was featured at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.