Aug 5, 2021
Beauty Water is based on a South Korean Naver Webtoon called "Tales of the Unusual" written by Seong-dae, who is said to have been heavily influenced by Itou Junji, a writer known for his strange and bizarre stories that aren't just limited to horror.
It is uncommon to find fictions that depict common real-life female social problems; sure, we had some good example fictions in the anime medium, such as .hack;Sign and Welcome to the N.H.K, the former addresses issues such as escapism through online video games, while the latter addresses common struggles of transitioning to adulthood. However, neither of the above-mentioned works was gender-specific, which
means that the issues presented in these works can apply to both men and women.
Throughout history, the concept of beauty has been and continues to be regarded as a demanding feminine trait, just as masculinity is regarded as a demanding masculine trait by society. Men are expected to be strong, financially independent, and muscular, while women are expected to be virtuous, popular, and attractive. All of these demanding traits bring with them issues that primarily affect their respective gender, particularly young people who fail to see things from a broader perspective; these young people begin to seek these traits in order to meet society's expectations. Women are more likely than men to be insecure about their appearance in general; as a result, when it comes to beauty, they are also more likely to fall victim to exploiters, manipulating media, and advertisers.
Beauty Water is a social commentary that deals with various topics related to beauty, like showing how beauty is an effective tool for achieving fame; we have "gold diggers", "Twitch thots" and celebrities who became wealthy solely because of their appearance and being regarded "talented" by society. Conversly, women can be bullied for their appearance, and they can become victims of social prejudice as a result of how society has labelled them "ugly". This unfair treatment may even last from elementary school to adulthood. Being a victim of social prejudice for being ugly from a young age can be very psychologically damaging to a female individual, so a woman's obsession with pursuing beauty, despite knowing the cost and consequences, may appear justified. This can be applied to the protagonist's character, Yaeji, a woman who has faced social prejudice because of her "ugly face" since she was a child, losing sight of her true career, ironically becoming make up artist and becoming overly obsessed with appearance, believing that beauty is the only way to improve her socioeconomic standing. This is also closely related to a mental health condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is common in teenagers and young adults. Common symptoms include spending too much time in front of the mirror, wearing certain types of clothes to hide flaws on the body, and in extreme cases, it can lead to the individual developing social anxiety and avoiding public activities due to shame and embarrassment, as throughout the film, Yaeji exhibits all of the aforementioned symptoms.
“I just want to be loved” — Yaeji
The movie employs bizarre unrealism and surrealism to convey its messages; it criticises advertisers and celebrity lifestyles, as well as how they are used to promote overpriced cosmetic products to gullible young females; thus, here comes "Beauty Water", a miraculous cosmetic solution product that allegedly makes one beautiful "with no side effects", which is an obvious symbolism for cosmetic surgery and Liposuction surgery, where both "Beauty Water" and the surgeries can theoretically make you more beautiful and lose weight with zero effort, but at a cost, be it economic, societal, or mental, especially for those who aren't mentally stable to begin with or who are ill-prepared.
In fact, it is widely held in South Korea that plastic surgery is viewed as a means to achieve social and professional success; unattractiveness is frequently associated with laziness, incompetence, and other negative stereotypes that are unsuitable for employment. South Korea, in case you didn't know, has the lowest self-esteem and one of the highest rates of both plastic surgery and suicide. However, such issues are not limited to South Korea; discrimination based on physical appearances is a global social issue. There are real-life women from all around the world who are unhappy with their external appearances and believe that changing their appearances will lead to career advancement, so even if you despise Yaeji for her immature behaviours, we can't deny how realistic her personality is and how easy it is to empathise with her.
Beauty Water employs a unique blend of 2D and 3D CGI animation for objects and environments to house, and the characters, with the exception of some characters in the background, were mostly drawn and animated in 3D animated characters. The colouring looked good and vibrant, but it could also turn dark depending on the mood and atmosphere. While there are a few action sequences, don't expect high-budget fluid animation or detailed art, as both are poor. If you're not like me and can't stand bad animation and art, you might not enjoy the film because of its bad visuals, which were, in my opinion, the film's weakest point.
This movie appear innocent at first glance due to its art style, but this is an adult film with graphic violence, mature themes, horrific scenes, and nudity. I like how pessimistic the message is; it doesn't preach or offer solutions to the viewer, or tell you "this is wrong and this is what's right", rather it says "life is unfair, deal with it." Fictional works of a similar nature to Beauty Water that focus on female social problems tend to fall into the romance genre; this could be attributed to the main target audience, in this case females. As a result, it may also fall into many other common shoujo tropes used to advertise and please the majority of the audience. Beauty Water, on the other hand, attempted to subvert these “shoujo tropes” while superficially retaining them; however, this subversion may lead some viewers to actually dislike the movie depending on their taste; it's like ordering your favourite dish from a new restaurant but then being surprised in a negative (or positive) way by what's actually hidden inside that dish.
Speaking of tropes, this movie has its own fair share of cliches and character tropes, I did not like how most of the secondary cast are cliche/one-dimeonsional characters. To give you examples, you have the beautiful outside but cruel inside, the mother's boy, the horny perverts and molesters and many other tropes. Luckly however, the allocation of screentime between characters was good, where the less important they are, the less screentime they get, which is reasonable. As for plot developments cliches, this can be forgiven due to the fact that this a character driven story where the psychology of the main character in regards with the explored themes is the main focus of the narrative.
While it's easy to interpret Beauty Water as a condemnation of plastic surgery, I do not think this is totally the case; the movie acknowledges that plastic surgery has benefits in a society that associates beauty with socioeconomic standing. It does, however, serve as a cautionary tale that plastic surgery is not a panacea; for example, Yaeji causes pain and suffering to people around her, including herself, not because she undergoes cosmetic changes, but because she believes those changes will solve all of her problems.
The movie effectively convey a message that perhaps will connect with those who see plastic surgery as the only solution, that changing your appearance does not necessarily change your personality. That being said, there are many related themes that were briefly presented but could have been explored further, such as the effects of social media, celebrity lifestyle, commercialism and consumerism in the beauty industry. However, this could have a negative impact on the pacing of an 85-minute movie.
Seong-dae has devised a fascinating premise that not only examines the link between beauty and self, but also makes a bold remark about a current topic that is not restricted to his home country but has worldwide repercussions. The premise of Beauty Water itself sheds light on many other yet similar social issues, it's the issues that primarily emerge from society's expectations of the individual, this is not only limited to appearance, but also "inner beauty", where society expects a great deal of an individual in terms of "being good" and this moral relativism is collective and subject to change over time.
Overall, the pacing was good; I was never bored, and the film never felt rushed to me. The use of foreshadowing to avoid plot convenience and asspulls was effective; I hope to see more anime like this that focuses on themes rather than mindless entertainment and action.
What did you think of this review?