The perfect fusion of a fantasy themed, innocent and pure love story – Ponyo, is another animated film written and directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, which is sure to captivate the inner child in all of us. This is the eighth film Miyazaki made for Studio Ghibli; his tenth movie overall; and the seventh Miyazaki & Ghibli movie that I’ve watched (almost halfway now to finishing all his works).
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is the initial title of this film which was released in Japan on July 19, 2008; in the US and Canada on August 14, 2009; and in the UK on February 12, 2010. This became a hit both in local (Toho released this film on July 19, 2008, in theatres across Japan on 481 screens—a record for a domestic film and grossed ¥10 billion ($91 million) in its first month of release and a total of ¥15.0 billion ($153.1 million) as of November 9, 2008) and international cinemas (this film actually reached #9 in the US box office charts for its opening weekend). Just like with the other works of Miyazaki, it had won several awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponyo)
The film focuses on the life and adventures of our little protagonist named Brunhilde, a fish-girl who lives with her father Fujimoto, a once-human wizard or scientist who chose to live underwater, and her numerous smaller sisters. Her family, with the exemption of her goddess mother went on an outing one day. Being the playful girl that she is, always full of curiosity, Brunhilde sneaked off and floated away on the back of a jellyfish. Due to an encounter with a fishing trawler, she got trapped in a jar and ended up ashore where Sosuke, our boy protagonist found her and helped her get out of the jar. Five-year old Sosuke got easily attached to his new pet, gave her the name ‘Ponyo’, brought her to school and then introduced her to his granny friends. One grandmother though upon seeing Ponyo, commented that a tsunami will come because of her. This is a bad omen which turned to reality days after.
Fujimoto was able to bring Ponyo back to their kingdom, however, the latter just won’t give in. In addition, because of the power that she has, Ponyo was able to free herself eventually causing a disaster in their kingdom under the sea. With the blood of Sosuke that Ponyo tasted, she turned herself into a little girl and called on all the other sea creatures to help her find Sosuke again.
Ponyo also unknowingly drowned the whole village in a great flood. Another interesting twist in this film was that during this great flood, a lot of historic animals came to life. Sosuke and Ponyo did have a great time identifying the creatures they are seeing while on their way to finding Lisa.
Good thing, her mother, the goddess of the sea, Granmamare, responded to her father’s call and came right away to settle things. Under the sea, Sosuke’s mother, Lisa, met Ponyo’s mom and talked about the situation of their children. Just like any other mother, Ponyo’s mom wholeheartedly gave her daughter’s hand to Sosuke when the latter promised that he’s willing to love Ponyo regardless of what or who she is.
Although we are talking about a love story between five year olds here, I think it was still done in a good taste. Hayao Miyazaki kept everything pure and simple between these two protagonists. I like how Miyazaki explored the characters of Ponyo and Sosuke. At first, I felt a bit awkward seeing two innocent kids show affection towards each other (especially Ponyo towards Sosuke), but then after watching half of the film, I came to love the story as a whole. Besides, isn’t that what love’s supposed to be like? Innocent? Pure? Only two young and innocent kids can portray this kind of love perfectly.
In the end though, Granmamare turned things back to normal, swept the flood away so that the village people can go back to their daily routine. Ponyo finally became a girl because of that one kiss she ‘stole’ from Sosuke. The story ended on such a light note and everyone’s really happy (including me of course!)
This film didn’t have much impact in me if I will compare it to Spirited Away (which I think is the best animated film ever) or to Howl’s Moving Castle to say the least, but I have to say it also has its own kind of charm. I was smiling most of the time watching Ponyo. Seeing Lisa and Granmamare talk to each other about the future of their kids made me really happy as well. I think it’s clever for Miyazaki to add this element in the story- that relationship between in-laws (if you know what I mean).
Lisa’s character also caught my attention. I noticed that Sosuke didn’t call Lisa as his ‘okasan’ in this film and only addressed her as Lisa-san. Judging from Lisa’s appearance, I would say she’s in her late-twenties in this movie. Perhaps, Miyazaki wanted to portray a mother-son relationship which is more of like a friend to each other which I’m totally cool with. I’ve always wanted that kind of parent – someone whom you can just approach and share everything that you want anytime, be it in terms of school or work life or even love life. Anyway, I think Lisa-san made a good example of how mothers should be, you know, when it comes to raising kids and taking care of older people. Although Sosuke calls her as Lisa-san, he still listens to her and definitely respects her. I really like that.
I also took the time to read details about the production of this movie and it just made me admire Hayao Miyazaki even more. This film was released in 2008, a time where all other filmmakers are indulging themselves on the use of computer generated images, and I believe Ponyo is one of the few which kept everything, from all the smallest details up to the biggest ones, authentically hand-drawn.
Hayao Miyazaki was also intimately involved with the hand-drawn animation in Ponyo. The sea and waves shown in this movie was drawn by Miyazaki himself. He enjoyed experimenting and exploring how to further express this important part of the film. The result of this very detailed drawing are 170,000 separate images which is a record for Miyazaki’s works (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponyo). Just imagine the amount of work that Miyazaki and his team poured into this film. It is beyond amazing! My respect and sheer admiration for this great director have gone to an all-time high because of this!
I would definitely recommend this film (well, actually I’d recommend all Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films) to the young kids out there and even to the older ones. If God will bless me with my own child someday, I’d have this film in my collection and sit beside my kid watching this beautiful movie. I’m sure we will have a great time watching this together. 🙂
(Photos used are not mine, credits to their rightful owners)