A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Ponyo

January 5, 2011

Ponyo

We decided today to watch a subtitled movie because we hadn’t done one in a while. But what to watch? Something in French? In Portuguese? Spanish? Korean? We kind of wanted to watch an Anime, but couldn’t settle on one to watch. As we pondered I was kind of saddened that we didn’t have any more Miyazaki movies left in our collection since we’ve already reviewed Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. But wait! We haven’t reviewed Ponyo yet – in fact before tonight neither of us had even seen it.

I really had no idea what to expect from this movie. I’d heard, of course, that it was Miyazaki’s take on the tale of the Little Mermaid, but what exactly did that mean? Was it going to be darkly tragic like the original story? Was it going to be romantic with a fairy tale ending like the Disney version? Well, this is Miyazaki we’re talking about, so it ended up being a gorgeous childhood adventure with a deep and moving mythological world built around it.

The star of the movie is a funny little fish-thing (somewhat like an aquatic version of Calcifur from Howl’s Moving Castle in appearance) that becomes curious about the world and leaves her mad scientist/magician father deep under the waves and goes up to the surface world. This preamble is told entirely in pantomime to a wonderful full orchestra in a sequence that reminded me very much of the Fantasia films in terms of its storytelling and lush appearance. Above the waves the fish girl thing is discovered by a five-year-old boy named Sosuke who names her Ponyo and is completely fascinated by her.

Sosuke lives on a forested island surrounded by water. His mother works in a home for elderly women right next to Sosuke’s school. His father is a captain on a huge ship at sea. Sosuke is at home in both worlds, communicating with his father using morse code and wearing a captain’s cap, but also lovingly talking with the old ladies his mother works with.

When Ponyo’s father takes her back to the sea she becomes determined to re-join Sosuke – so determined that she uses magic to grow legs and hands, then she stumbles upon a well full of power that her father has been accumulating in his own quest to usurp mankind and re-make the world into an aquatic garden. She uses this power to return to the surface and seeks out Sosuke, becoming a human girl in the process. Unfortunately all this power unleashes all the might of the ocean. Tsunamis and monsoons. The waters rise up and all manner of extinct life returns. The moon begins to fall and everything becomes involved in a dream-like magical clash with the modern world.

The mythic imagery that fills this movie is awe inspiring. During the storm that Ponyo unleashes the waves are whipped up into mighty swells capped by white froth that look like animated Japanese scrollwork. Gorgeous. Then there’s Ponyo’s mother, a goddess of the sea. Ponyo and Sosuke set out after the storm in a toy boat to find Sosuke’s mother and I couldn’t help thinking of the Owl and the Pussycat in their beautiful pea-green boat. And there’s the astonishing variety of oceanic life that Miyazaki and his team fill the movie with. It’s pure magic.

More than that though is the effortless blending of worlds. There’s Sosuke and his family, the magic and wonder of the ocean, and the childhood friendship of Ponyo and Sosuke, all happening simultaneously and all meshing effortlessly with each other.

Many of the themes I’ve become familiar with in Miyazaki’s work are here. The pollution of the ocean around Sosuke’s home island is part of the reason that Ponyo’s father wants to use his magic to revive the diversity and wonder of the ocean to end Humanity’s dominion of Earth. There are themes of old gods and legends rising up to re-claim the world. In many ways this feels like a child-friendly version of Princess Mononoke.

The only thing I could find in the entire movie that slightly irritated me was that the squid in the film seem to swim backwards. It jarred me somewhat. I just wanted to mention it because with all the other gorgeous sea life on display it seemed odd that there were giant squid swimming tentacles first with the tentacles pointed straight out. But that’s it – one tiny minor flaw in a gorgeous, deep, simple tale of childhood friendship. As always with Miyazaki I am in complete awe.

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January 5, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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