(2008) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
viewed: 08/16/09 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA
Ponyo is the latest film from the great, wonderful, amazing Hayao Miyazaki. It’s the softest and gentlest of his films since My Neighbor Totoro (1988), the most G-rated and little kid-friendly. His range in his audience is not necessarily huge, but this film is on the extreme end of accessibilty and identification with small children, and at the same time, open and wonderful to all as is true with all of his wonderful films. And Ponyo, while it’s not quite Totoro, or Spirited Away (2001), is a wonderful film itself, featuring many characteristics about Miyazaki’s world that amaze and enchant.
Ponyo is a revision of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson, but in this case, the heroine is not a mermaid, but a goldfish with a human face and magical powers. And her father is some alchemist technician who struggles to keep the sea in balance, her mother is the ocean itself, embodied by the image of a human godess. Ponyo falls in love with a five year old boy, Sosuke, for whom she wants to transform herself into a human. The story is less about a purely romanticized love, but a love that seems to transcend everything, ultimately symbolizing a binding of humanity and nature, a nature simply alive with anthropomorphication, living waves, living bubbles, fish of all kinds. It ties in with other themes of Miyazaki, the spirit world of traditional Japanese beliefs in which spirits inhabit everything, and thusly, everything is more or less alive, especially if not specifically, the natural world.
Miyazaki creates images that no one else could. Ponyo is constantly metamorphizing via her magic, growing chicken-like arms and legs, occasionally like some blob thing more than fish, but ultimately, one of the film’s most stunning images is her running across the giant waves, racing after Sosuke and his mother in their car. She has a joie de vivre, a spark of love and life and energy that is vibrant and magical, a really lovely, fun character. The strangeness of the sea and of some of the images that Miyazaki dreams up, he spawn-like little sisters, her father’s watering can system, the weird ships and strange simple technologies he loves to dream up.
And the film has a sweetness for the elderly, something that occurs frequently in his films, mostly notably in his last film, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), with the young girl becoming old and the ability to hang onto or lose one’s youth. In Ponyo, it is the children and the senior’s center, more a vague Greek chorus than important figure.
Ponyo is lovely. We are very lucky to have Hayao Miyazaki’s films, that he continues to make such amazing, creative, unique work. There is charm, joy, love, and a deep appreciation for the magic and metamorphosis in animation, the ability to instill the anthropomorphism that is in essence his sensibility of nature and traditional Japanese values that agree with that belief. And to create characters and instances, images, and actions that are simple, yet true, true cinema.