by Mel Valentin
In the United States, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is best known as the director of "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away" (which won the Best Animated Feature Film at the 2003 Academy Awards), and "Howl’s Moving Castle." In Japan, Miyazaki is a larger-than-life figure, a Walt Disney-like figure with his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli, and a career spanning more than four decades and 10 films (not counting the films he’s produced at Studio Ghibli). Despite his advanced age (he’s 68), Miyazaki shows little sign of slowing down, as his latest film, "Ponyo," a family-oriented fantasy-drama loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Little Mermaid," more than indicates. Bursting with a vibrant color palette, arresting imagery, and emotional resonance, "Ponyo" is the perfect antidote for anyone exhausted by the onslaught of big-budget blockbusters (most of them sequels, reboots, prequels, or reimaginings) this summer.Ponyo centers on the titular character, Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus), a human-faced goldfish (she’s red, white, and orange) and the daughter of Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), a powerful, wizard who lives under the sea in a coral tower with Ponyo and her younger sisters. Fujimoto has little patience for humans and their exploitive, destructive behavior. Every day he encounters the environmental waste and pollution they dump into the earth’s oceans. Despite his intense dislike of humans (he was one once himself), Fujimoto’s works tirelessly keeps the world in ecological balance through his magic spells and potions. Ponyo shatters that balance when she escapes her coral home with the help of her sisters and heads for the world above.
"Another can't-miss animated film from Hayao Miyazaki."
Ponyo’s first adventure almost leads to her demise: she’s caught in a net scouring the bottom of a bay. Stuck in a glass jar, she lingers near the shoreline, slowly suffocating. Luckily, she’s saved by Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), a five-year old boy who lives with his mother, Lisa (Tina Fey), a nursing home worker, high above the sea on a cliff. Sosuke’s father, Koichi (Matt Damon), the captain of a merchant vessel, is rarely home, but maintains contact through a wireless radio or, in one case, ship-to-shore coded messages. The distance between Lisa and Koichi is more than physical, however. She’s grown tired of the repeated separations, their limited time together, and Koichi’s broken promises to her and Sosuke.
Captivated by Ponyo, Sosuke brings her to school where, not surprisingly, she causes a disturbance, forcing Sosuke to flee with Ponyo to the nursing home. Fujimoto, however, succeeds in bringing Ponyo back to their coral home. She refuses her given name, however, and conspires with her sisters to escape again, this time with a magic well hidden behind a locked door that, at least temporarily, let’s Ponyo take on half-human form (she has chicken legs and arms) and, later, riding and running on the backs of her transformed sisters, into a human girl Sosuke recognizes as Ponyo. Ponyo’s continued presence on land, however, unleashes a massive storm that threatens to drown the seaside community and its human inhabitants.
Where Miyazaki and his films are concerned, expectations are always high and Ponyo (or Ponyo on the Cliff to use the longer Japanese title). Moviegoers expect rich, detailed, imaginative animation, a deep, textured narrative, and environmental or childhood-related themes, all of which Ponyo delivers in abundance. Miyazaki and his animators designed every item, every object, every background, and every character to serve the narrative and to impress audiences with their inventiveness and originality. Not surprisingly, Ponyo contains more than 170,000 separate images (a record for a Miyazaki film).
And where else could moviegoers see a long-haired wizard who travels underwater in a submarine equipped with flippers? Where else can moviegoers see a young girl, once a human-faced goldfish, running exuberantly across wave-fish in a joyful pursuit of her friend? Where else could you see a flooded town where ancient, long-extinct fish swim lazily across the thoroughfares? Where else could the blinking lights at night turn into a string of closely packed merchant ships? Where else could young and old (and not-so-old, not-so-young) generations embracing each other uncritically?The answer, of course, is "Ponyo," a film that will make romantics blush and cynics lose their cynicism, even if only briefly, in the innocent, pure relationship between two children from two different worlds. "Ponyo" may not have the mythological depth of "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away" or even "Howl’s Moving Castle," but in its simple, straightforward, perfectly paced narrative, it’s just as emotionally rewarding and, ultimately, dramatically satisfying, regardless of your age, ideology, or natural inclinations.
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originally posted: 08/14/09 04:28:13