Watership Down, Plague Dogs, and Leafie: A Hen into the Wild all have one thing in common, something that Padak (Swimming to Sea) also shares. They’re animated horrifying journeys of pain and misery where happiness goes to die. And I love all of them.
Recently I watched Padak which is known in English as Swimming to Sea. This film came to my attention because I found it on steam. It was too weird to pass up and at $1.99, I’m game for weird indie things. This film is a 2012 South Korean 3D animated film that I was not prepared for. I thought I was after watching the trailer. It looked like a downer of a film. And then I heard it was a musical. And then I watched it with my roommates and husband for our Friday movie night. We alternated between horror, wanting to leave the journey, and crying best movie ever, sometimes in rapid succession.
So what is Padak? And yes. It is a musical. The main character is a mackerel that is caught by a fishing boat and is put on display in front of a Korean sushi restaurant. Patrons can pick their fish from these displays and then the chef serves them so fresh that they’re still twitching in the final moments of life while their cooked innards are being consumed. The tank mates are immediately recognizable to people who have been playing too much Animal Crossing. They play dead in order to avoid being eaten and their leader, an olive flounder, hides inside a ventilation grate to avoid being seen. The mackerel, named Padak (essentially Flappy in English), longs to return to the sea and is not content to stay in this tank awaiting her death.
From there, the movie is about these restaurant tank fish and their absolutely hopeless life that is always moments away from death punctuated sometimes by beautiful song sequences that are all in unique animation styles. These sequences also provide some horrifying imagery that I am all about. My favorite genre is horror so these were right up my alley. My favorite image was the gigantic crumbling skeleton of a fish high above abstract human shapes as they smacked their knives over the heads of live fish, killing them. We even get a villain song in a more anime style that’s pretty intense. You can tell there’s passion here and I’m glad they included these. The entire movie takes place in this tank that has no features and the front part of the restaurant inside so it’s nice to have these songs provide new environments.
I wasn’t kidding when I said this movie is where happiness goes to die. There is no happiness. There is few hopeful moments, but most of those end with tragedy. Beloved characters die, there’s fish cannibalism, and this movie does not shy away from showing fish body horror. It can be a bit much. If you’ve seen any of the movies I’ve mentioned above, then you’ll know what you’re getting into. I do not recommend seeing it if any of those movies made you squeamish or you don’t like bleak movies and graphic fish death.
Of the four, Watership Down is still my favorite and top of the list. Plague Dogs is hard for me to watch and I would never return for a repeat viewing, so I’d put it at number three. Leafy is more muted on its horrifying nature and really just saves it for the ending. Plus it does have those bishonen ducks. And a lot of poop jokes. It’s at the bottom. That leaves Padak at number two for child scarring movies that no child should watch.
Check it out if you have the stomach for it or love these sorts of movies like I do. I give Padak overall a 7/10. It has a complex message and it tells its story as well as it can. Some of the animation on the humans is rough, but it works to the movie’s favor in a few pivotal scenes. It’s a beautiful journey through despair and one I’m glad I watched.