Review: Okja

Seo-Hyun Ahn in Okja

Okja is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. A young Korean girl and her friend the super pig Okja win our hearts. Into their charmed existence in the serene mountains comes the horror of the meat producing business.

There’s a win at the end of the story for Mija (An Seo Hyun or Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her super pig, but the overall impact of this morality tale about the brutality and greed of meat production left me feeling sad.

the okja poster
The Okja poster illustrates the message, with the lovable pig topped by a stinking factory.

Even though it’s a lovable animated character, Okja is rated TV-MA because of graphic animal cruelty. If you have tender-hearted, animal loving children, I would take that TV-MA rating seriously. Even if you have moral or environmental positions related to eating meat that you’ve already discussed with your family, I suggest you watch it yourself first to decide whether your children can handle it.

Tilda Swinton in Okja

The story begins with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announcing to the world her 10 year super pig contest. Super pigs will be given to farmers all around the globe and in 10 years, the winner will be announced. Lucy’s obsequious assistant Jennifer (Shirley Henderson) carries out her every order. Her other assistant Frank (Giancarlo Esposito) is secretly helping her twin (also played by Tilda Swinton) to take over the company.

Next we meet Mija, her grandfather (Hee-Bong Byun) and the playful pig. Mija and Okja do everything together and communicate very well.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Okja

Up their mountain comes Dr. Wilcox (an almost unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal) and a bunch of Mirando minions. Dr. Wilcox is a TV personality and the spokesperson for Mirando Industries. Grandfather takes Mija to visit her parents’ graves. When they get home, Okja is gone.

Mija heads to Seoul to bring home her pig. By herself. She breaks into Mirando headquarters in Seoul and finds Okja.

Okja and Mija are spirited away from the clutches of Mirando by AFL, which stands for Animal Friends League or something similar. This bunch includes Steven Yeun, Paul Dano, Daniel Henshall, Lily Collins and Devon Bostick. K (Yeun) does the translating. When the leader Jay (Dano) asks Mija if they can put a camera on Okja and take film of what happens inside Mirando headquarters in New York, Mija answers, “I want to take him back to the mountains.” K translates this as, “Yes.”

The super pig is taken to New York. Mija follows. During a big publicity event, Mija and the ALF people almost get Okja back. They fail. Okja’s taken to the slaughter house. Mija goes there and sees how horrible it is. Hundreds of animals crowded together, then run through a chute to be killed amid pools of blood.

Mija gets Okja released, thanks to greed and a solid gold pig her grandfather gave her. As they walk slowly away, a pair of super pigs push a baby pig through the fence. Okja carries it out hidden in her mouth.

The two rescued pigs do return to the freedom and peace of the mountains, so that part of the story has a happy ending.

Joon-ho Bong directed. Everything was superbly done. The animation was wonderful. There were lengthy action sequences, truck chases, violent confrontations between police and the animal rights people, and very realistic looking exchanges between Mija and the big creature she loved.

Here’s the trailer.

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