Set in South Korea, the latest Netflix original film Okja is also the latest movie from director Bong Joon Ho, he of Snowpiercer, The Host and more. Okja is the name given to a massive mysterious beast that looks like an elephant crossed with a manatee and a pig who is the closest companion to Mija (An Seo Hyun). The two are always together in an idyllic life being lived with Mija’s family far-removed from much of civilization.
That all comes crashing down when Okja is taken by the Miranda Corporation, owned and run by Lucy Miranda (Tilda Swinton). The company has big plans for Okja, including using it as the basis for a revolution in meat production. Mija isn’t ready to see her friend permanently disappear, though, and sets out to rescue it, variously helped and hindered by individuals who have their own reasons for wanting to see Okja freed, even if it’s only long enough for them to exploit it.
The poster – yes, Netflix actually created and released one – hammers home the movie’s story through metaphor. Okja is shown in the shadows being led by Mija, who’s walking ahead of it holding a leash. But mounted on Okja’s back is a factory, shown pushing out smoke from the stacks. It’s meant to be a literal interpretation of how the business in the movie is aiming to be built on the back of Okja and the leap forward it represents. Copy at the top makes it clear this is “A Netflix original film” and the Cannes logo is shown as well.
Not only did the movie get a regular poster it got a series of character posters, with personality traits for each person drawn on them like a map of cuts of meat on a pig or cow.
The first teaser trailer doesn’t explain much. It starts out with someone explaining how she’s managed to combine nature and science, but that’s about it. The other major part that’s revealed here is a brief look at Mija’s relationship with the titular beast. Again, not much here but it does do enough to create some sense of anticipation that there’s a whole world ready to be explored here.
The official trailer is much more story-centric, with Mirando talking about the scientific breakthrough the super pig represents and all the benefits it entails. All that is countered with footage of that pig in the woods with XXX until it’s recaptured by the corporation. An animal rights group comes along and promises to save Okja from the corporation, but that doesn’t go according to plan of course. Action and intrigue ensues.
Wow. That’s..unique and I really don’t know what to make of it.
In the next trailer we get even more cute shots of Okja and her friend out in the wilderness before it’s taken somewhere by people with their own agenda. She’s determined to get her pet/friend out, though, and we see some of the adventure that’s experienced along the way. It’s not much, but it’s a solid second effort that dropped just a couple weeks prior to release.
Online and Social
The movie’s only online platform is its Facebook page, which has been used to distribute various in-world videos from the Miranda Corporation, share cinemagraphs from the movie and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A very strange promotional item came in the form of a video message from Lucy Mirando (Blanchett) who talks about the immense benefits her company has provided. That turns dark for a moment but ultimately ends on a high note. The video debuted in what appears to have been a sponsored post on Wired that was meant to seem like actual coverage of the Mirando Corporation and its activities around the Super Pig Project. Oddly, that article was pulled from the site, though it still shows up in search, with the page throwing a “not found” error.
That to my knowledge is the only paid effort engaged in. No online ads were run that I’m aware of and certainly no TV spots have been aired.
Media and Publicity
The first look at the movie, including some storyboard concepts, came via EW along with a few details about the story. A bit later it was announced that, unlike many Netflix releases, this one would get theatrical distribution as well.
The movie was one of the handful that had its premiere at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. That caused some controversy, though, as French projectionists objected to screening a movie that would not first get a theatrical release.
That Cannes screening became something of a lightning, focusing the debate over whether Netflix is good or bad for film in general. Some, including many actors and directors with past, current or upcoming projects at Netflix, pointed out that it was financing and releasing smaller movies that studios weren’t interested in and leaving talent alone to realize their vision. The counter argument seemed to be “If it’s not on a huge screen it’s not a real movie” which confuses production for distribution and discounts that the current system keeps many filmmakers of all stripes from having their work shown anywhere. Throughout the festival, right though this film’s debut screening, various actors and others chimed in with their thoughts, resulting in lots of press and exposure.
There was a bit of publicity outside of the Cannes issue, though one has to believe that controversy only helped raised the movie’s profile in the press to the point where it became one that was worthy of coverage. That press activity included an interview with Ho where he talked about his cinematic influences as well as the intended and unintended messages of the movie. There were also a few stories about the style of Swinton’s character and how the actress got Chanel to provide a key bit of wardrobe.
Well first of all it just has to be noted that Netflix put demonstrably more effort into this movie than it usually does. That comes through with the presence of not just one but multiple posters, a Facebook page and some actual press activity, something the company doesn’t usually engage in. It’s obvious Netflix felt that with a movie of this stature, one they ultimately to the premiere film festival in the world, it had to put some serious muscle behind selling it, regardless of whether or not it was going to screen in theaters.
I just wish it were a bit more consistent in its tone and messaging. The poster tells a story of corporate exploitation, the trailers tell a story of a girl and her super-pig, the publicity hammers home the idea of vegetarianism and the odd in-world campaign makes it look like a bit of Brazil-esque surrealism. So which one is it? The best case for seeing the movie, the strongest message, comes from its festival screenings and the good word of mouth that resulted from those. Outside of that there’s little for the average moviegoer to latch onto. This might be, as some have speculated, Netflix’s first truly great movie but it’s questionable whether the campaign is going to convert many subscribers or if this is just a prestige title for the streamer to tout.