Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi
Review Author: Tony
Synopsis: A young, adventurous goldfish escapes her wizard father’s underwater boat to explore the surface world. When she becomes entrapped in a glass jar, 5-year-old Sōsuke comes to her aid and adopts her. After naming her Ponyo, she begins to evolve and even speaks to Sōsuke. The wizard, Fujimoto, seeks Ponyo to keep her separated from the human world. Once recaptured, Ponyo evolves even further and becomes determined to reunite with her best friend, Sōsuke.
We’ve set the task this year to review a Hayao Miyazaki film each month in order to pay tribute to the legendary filmmaker and to allow me to view his entire filmography for the first time in its entirety. For this month, I’ve chosen one of Miyazaki’s quieter and more personal films in Ponyo as a result of January and Februarys picks going to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky, two fantasy epics from the director with a blockbuster feel to both. Ponyo retains the fantastical elements of former Miyazaki films, but settles on a far more innocent and subtle approach to its storytelling than our previous picks.
The relationship between Ponyo and Sōsuke is the heart and soul of the film. Two entities from different worlds forming a friendship sparked by kindness and warmth. Miyazaki has this wonderful ability to see the world through a child’s eyes which is perfectly exemplified by Ponyo and Sōsuke’s innocence, comaraderie, sense of adventure, and viewing the mundane aspects of life we adults take for granted as new and exciting experiences. Miyazaki has said that Sōsuke is inspired by his own son Goro and watching him grow as a young child; a sort of tragic inspiration because Hayao and Goro have stated their relationship has remained strained for decades despite working together making films.
The animation is as breathtaking as can be expected from a Studio Ghibli film but also appears simpler in terms of line drawing with less detailed characters and asymmetrical animation throughout. The colours are incredibly lush and vibrant. The coastal town setting is beautifully realized, appearing quaint and quiet compared to the vastness of the underwater scenes.
A more gentle experience than the previous Miyazaki films I’ve watched thus far, Ponyo is less adversarial and clearly aimed at capturing the imagination of children while enrapturing adults’ attention with its beauty and wonder. There’s an environmental message at its core that broaches a softer approach, not necessarily painting the human characters as the culprits but more of a lack of harmony between the ocean and surface that both Ponyo and Sōsuke are the key to taming.
Inspired by the classic fairytale, The Little Mermaid, written by Hans Andersen, Miyazaki has said himself it was a story that captured his imagination as a child. Beautifully animated and sporting an inspiring score by the legendary film composer Joe Hisaishi, Ponyo is a labour of love dedicated to children and the beauty of their innocence. I watched the film in its original Japanese recording, but I believe the Disney produced English dub is solid, keeping most of the original dialogue with a fantastic voice cast.
Cans of Sapporo