When a movie immediately makes you alter your lifestyle (as long as its a righteous change), then you have something very special on your hands. Now there will be plenty of people who will watch the exact same movie and not be equally affected, but that’s beside the point. I’ve been a meat-eater all of my life – but somehow Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja has genuinely made me become a vegetarian. And what makes my case better is that Okja is just an overall fantastic movie. So there.
We first meet the titular “super pig” – a delightful hippopotamus-like creature – as she plays with her lifelong friend Mija, a young girl who lives deep in the mountains with her grandfather. The two are inseparable, and before you know it you fall in love with sweet Okja, too.
Not only is the storytelling by Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho just as charming and smartly childlike as Okja, but even the animation of the creature is breathtaking. Joon-Ho makes a point to include small details like showing delicate parcels of light running alongside Okja’s gray hide, and even a wonderfully goofy scene of excretion (trust me, it’s funny). All is seemingly well in their quiet life – until someone feels the need to disrupt it.
The arrival of eccentric animal rights activist Dr. Johnny Wilcox – played hilariously by Jake Gyllenhaal — is where things go terribly awry. The beloved creature is taken away, and Mija is forced to travel out of her home to save Okja. She meets up with a decades-old activist group, the Animal Liberation Front, who are determined to rescue the factory-made animals from slaughter.
Early on, we get many worrying hints of widespread corruption and denial of unethical animal treatment by CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) – all of which are handled effortlessly by Joon-Ho. You laugh, cry, and are often disturbed by the film, but you can’t look away.
One of Okja‘s most surprising achievements is its ability to take a seemingly simple story about a girl and her animal friend, and turn it into something incredibly deep. It comments on corporations, ethics of food consumption, the bias of media coverage, and so much more. And – even more incredibly – it communicates those ideas with with the utmost charm and beauty. It felt like a perfect blend between Spielberg and Miyazaki.
While the film also has a limited theatrical release, hopefully the heated controversy over its Netflix distribution will at least help it get more curious viewers in the long run. What I do hope, however, is that people do come to their senses and allow the wonderful Okja to be up for awards come Oscar season. Please, Academy. Please.