Given to her grandfather by the Mirando corporation, Okja is an environmental and capitalist experiment. Can these genetically modified pigs be raised in a way that provides the most meat with the least impact both financially and environmentally? Twenty-six of them have been sent to small farms around the world, and after ten years, the Mirando corporation comes to collect on their investment.
What Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) doesn't anticipate, is that Mija is unwilling to give up her friend. And despite Mija's initial powerlessness, her refusal to let go of Okja takes her across the world. Eventually finding herself stuck between the Mirando Corporation, and the Animal Liberation Front, who both want Okja for their own means.
Okja dropped on Netflix in 2017, and was one of the platforms biggest hits at the time. Director Bong Joon Ho tried in vain to find another studio to fund and distribute the film, but unfortunately the controversial themes made many of them wary. Thankfully in Netflix he found a home for his eccentric and charming story.
The film itself skirts a strange line between charming Ghibli-esque drama and thriller. The relationship and love between Okja and Mija holds it together beautifully, keeping your focus on reuniting them as a family, regardless of your feelings around eating meat. Okja herself is highly intelligent and anthropomorphised, humanising her in the viewers mind.
The ALF, led by Paul Dano are both friend and foe. Poking fun at similar groups worldwide who approach things with good intentions but often undermine themselves or cause more damage than they repair.
Despite being mostly in the English language, Okja is charmingly South Korean. It's bizarre, uncomfortable, silly and awkwardly funny, whilst also being dark, disturbing and compelling. The most disturbing characters, Lucy Mirando and Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), spout extreme and absurd performances, and seem as limited in their choices and trapped in the cycle as their victims do. Desperation abounds across the spectrum of characters.
This new release from Criterion boasts a typically strong collection of bonus features. Interviews with cast and crew give insight to the nuances of the story. Bong Joon Ho himself describing the journey to getting the film made, and his interview of long-time collaborator Byun Hee-Bong being highlights. Seeing their views on the story now, post Parasite where South Korean cinema has become more mainstream, offers some hope that audiences will continue to engage with international cinema.
Despite Netflix now adding some bonus features for their originals, for Okja they are lacking on the streaming service so having them on a disc makes it worth owning if you are a fan of the film. Plus as Okja is sadly missing from the existing Bong Joon Ho box set, if you're feeling a gap on your shelf, you won't be disappointed. As the existing set is a Tartan release, not known for their enduring quality or exhaustive inclusions, Okja may be the best one you can get.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- 4K digital master, approved by director Bong Joon Ho, with Dolby Atmos sound on the Blu-ray and 4K UHD editions
- In the 4K UHD edition: One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray with the film and special features
- New conversation between Bong and producer Dooho Choi
- New interviews with actors An Seo Hyun and Byun Heebong
- New interviews with members of the crew about the film's cinematography, visual effects, and costume and production design
- Short programs including a director's video diary, featuring Bong; actors Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, and Steven Yeun; and others
- Teaser, trailer, and web promos
- English subtitle translation and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- PLUS: An essay by critic Karen Han
Okja will be released on Special Edition Blu-ray from Criterion on July 18th.