March 15, 2010
There’s always a certain amount of anticipation for a new film by Hayao Miyazaki. This legendary Japanese anime filmmaker is responsible for some of the most imaginative fantasy films ever made with the likes of My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Spirited Away (2001). With Ponyo (2008), Miyazaki adapts the Hans Christian Anderson classic tale, The Little Mermaid.
The first six minutes of dialogue-free footage demonstrate Miyazaki’s skill as a purely visual storyteller. We meet Ponyo, a goldfish who travels from the depths of the ocean to almost getting trapped in a net of a trash-collecting boat. However, she gets stuck in a glass jar and is rescued by a little boy named Sosuke. Her father is a powerful underwater sorcerer and he pursues his daughter on land. Ponyo is not your typical fish as Sosuke discovers. For example, she likes to eat the ham right out of his sandwich!
Ponyo and Sosuke become friends only for her father to reclaim the girl and return them to the sea. Sosuke’s father works long hours piloting a transport boat of some type which angers his mother but she has developed a strong bond with her son. Back at home, Ponyo begins to take on human characteristics like arms and legs, much to her father’s chagrin. She escapes from her underwater home and in doing so creates monsoon-like conditions on the surface. This almost destroys the ship that Sosuke’s father pilots with large waves that are created from her underwater escape. Ponyo and Sosuke are reunited once again and the film follows their adventures.
The underwater scenes come to life with vibrant colours thanks to the vast assortment of life that populates it. Miyazaki creates a fascinating sense of wonder with the help of the film’s soundtrack by his long-time composer Joe Hisaishi. There are also all kinds of vivid imagery, like the giant waves of water that resemble a fish. Soon, we see Ponyo running on top of the giant fish-like waves of water as Sosuke and his mother race home from the storm in her car.
Ponyo doesn’t quite have the same magical sense of wonder as other classic Miyazaki films but it is still a very engaging effort in its own right. There is something to be said when a minor work by Miyazaki is better than most animated films out there. Only Pixar has as good or maybe a better track record.
“Disc Introduction – Meet Ponyo” features the American version’s executive producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy singing Miyazaki’s praises and talking briefly about the film.