Film Review: You Are Umasou
You Are Umasou is a film adaptation of a Japanese picture book series by Tatsuya Miyanishi. The story follows the life of Heart, a young Tyrannosaurus Rex who was raised as an herbivore. At one point, Heart develops a taste for meat. He ventures off away from his herbivorous family and society, leaving their lush jungle for the crueler savanna on which other tyrannosaurs roam.
He meets up with others who are basically like a gang, with a huge T-Rex named Baku as their leader. Realizing that being raised as a plant-eater has made him weak, and that he's still smaller than the others, he trains himself to become stronger. He gets better at chasing prey, better at fighting, and tougher, even doing pushups to strengthen a T-Rex's notorious weakness; their arms.
But wouldn't you know it, one of his would-be meals gives him a little bit of back talk. Specifically, as he's about to chow down on a tiny Ankylosaurus egg, the little guy hatches and calls Heart his dad. The title of the movie comes from this exchange; when Heart is about to eat him, he says "you are tasty (umasou)!". The little hatchling thinks Heart is his father and was naming him "Umasou".
So, at that point, oddly enough, Heart decides to raise the little guy as an adopted son anyway. He defends him from the other predators, and trains him to fight and dodge attacks himself. Heart has to grapple with the fact that he hides his carnivorousness from his "son" by hunting while the kid is asleep or grazing.
While Umasou grows up, Heart struggles more and more with this identity crisis, wondering if eating meat and hunting makes him a bad guy or not. Of course, he's eventually reunited with his herbivorous family, and also eventually makes peace with his nature as a carnivore. Thus, the movie is about embracing differences, but it's also about coming to grips with the cruelty that's sometimes an inescapable part of nature.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
One motif that shows up a lot are red berries. As a child, Heart can only eat red berries, not acorns or grass like the other Maiasaura (herbivorous dinosaurs) he's being raised with. He doesn't know yet why he can't eat the same food as everyone else, he just knows he feels different. So the red berries are the initial clue that something is off about Heart that will cause conflict between himself and others in his herd later on. This motif gets repeated later when the red berry plants are grown around a paralyzed elder dinosaur who dispenses wisdom to Heart and other dinos who visit him. The red berries are the one food that can be eaten by both herbivores and carnivores, so they represent unity, coming together, gaining peaceful understanding by focusing on similarities, rather than differences. They kind of represent a sort of utopian hope that nature need not be barbaric and cruel.
There's a kind of haunting, almost creepy, nursery rhyme type song that is repeated in the movie. It almost becomes prophetic; it warns of a "big jaw" who will come and eat crying children. When Heart is a kid, he first hears the song and his (herbivore) brother makes him cry when he points out that the "big jaw" being described as a monster in the song in fact sounds like it also describes Heart. Later, the song repeating is used to emphasize how Heart has come to accept his true nature, even the aspects of it that are painful to accept.
Coming to grips with the painful side of nature is an important theme. It's refreshing to see a show where actions have real, permanent, lasting consequences; things don't get magically better, it wasn't all just a dream, and you do have to deal with the fact that you bit that guy's tail off later. It might be animated like a kid's movie, but it's about handling guilt, shame, and remorse, like an adult.
Heart is adopted by an herbivore and then in turn adopts an herbivore as his son. In both instances, the gastronomical differences between parent and child are a source of tension. But in both cases, the parent does not give up or ever stop loving their adopted child over the difference. It's very touching, because it's showing how a child doesn't have to be exactly a copy of his or her parents to be worthy of a parent's love.
Visually, the carnivores and herbivores mainly live in two separate worlds. When Heart is a child being raised by the Maiasuaras, he lives in a vibrant, green jungle. The other T-Rexes he encounters, however, live in a barren grassland/desert area, where they hunt wandering herbivorous grass eaters like Triceratops and Titanosaurus. This is a visual way of communicating the greater savagery of the Tyrannosaurs compared with the idyllic, peaceful life of the Maiasaura herd.
I'm actually sad that this movie is relatively obscure. If I were to venture a guess, I'd say the problem with marketing this movie is that it's a little too violent and scary for little children, but it looks like a movie for little children, and that sentimental kid's movie style might put off older viewers, even though in my opinion, the themes and moral messages of this movie are very good for adults.
I'd consider it probably the best dinosaur film I've ever seen, and among the best animated films I've seen. What I especially love is that the movie is able to make us care, make us think, and evoke our emotional responses without that feeling pushy or manipulative. The movie doesn't have any filler parts that seem unnecessary, but it still immerses you in its world. This is one movie that was able to make me cry, and I can't even remember the last time a movie made me cry. I normally hate sentimental drivel like Marley and Me or bad Christian propaganda films. When someone is trying to pull on your heartstrings but forcing it too much, you can tell it's fake. But this movie is able to do what so many Hollywood movies are not able to do when it comes to getting the audience to feel deeply with the characters.