Ponyo (2008)

Director:  Hayao Miyazaki 
Cast:  Yuria Nara, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima
Plot:  An animated adventure centered on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become human. 

Genre:  Animation/ / Family / Fantasy
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice Film Festival) 
Runtime:  100min 
Rating:  G

Ponyo is distinctively the brushstroke of legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.  However, there are increasing signs that this brushstroke is slowly ageing and losing its potency.  Miyazaki can still manage to compel viewers with his artistry, but he is clearly past his peak with this one. 

That being said, I find nothing wrong whatsoever with the plot.  The film is loosely based on the story of 'The Little Mermaid'.  Here it is the little Ponyo, a goldfish-like creature with magical powers who yearns to become human (which is taboo-speak in her homeland under the sea) after a street-wise boy, Sosuke, saves her from being stuck in a jar. 

Here the protagonist is Sosuke, a strong departure from feminine lead characters as seen in past works such as Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Spirited Away (2001).  Because of Ponyo’s resilience to become human, she sets off a chain of events that threaten to overturn the balance of water and land on the planet.  Viewers with a keen eye for subliminal messages will note that Miyazaki’s fantastical tale of the sea is also a film that ridicules humans’ ignorance towards sea pollution and its environmental consequences.  

Despite its flaws, Ponyo has its fair share of ‘Miyazaki moments’ - Ponyo running atop large waves that make weird, quirky sounds, and an early scene where Ponyo’s hundreds of tiny siblings fill the entire screen in a sea of pink.  In addition, Joe Hisaishi’s score is remarkable, sometimes almost operatic, with a catchy, joyful theme song that brings back memories of a similar song in My Neighbor Totoro (1988).  

Fans looking for an otherworldly epic adventure in the mold of Spirited Away will be disappointed.  Here, the scope of the story is unexpectedly narrow; it is fundamentally a simple tale of love and acceptance.  The first-third of the film actually sets it up to be potentially intriguing.  

Alas, the lack of a genuine nemesis or a figure of pure evil means that the film takes a less adventurous and ultimately, a less complex and satisfying route.  Though one might argue for the case of earnest simplicity against a muddled complicated mess, Ponyo is still a wondrous, imaginative effort.


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*Last viewing - May 2018




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