by Mark Sombillo,

Ponyo - Theatrical Release

Sosuke, being a 5 year old boy who lives by the sea naturally has an affinity for boats. He owns a quaint little toy boat that is cleverly powered by a candle. It was shaping up to be just another day having fun with his toy but for the fact that he never got around to actually placing it on the water. As he was making preparations, he discovers a rather plump goldfish oddly trapped inside a glass jar. Freeing the fish and naming it Ponyo, the two almost immediately strike an innocently sweet bond and when Ponyo is taken away by her “evil wizard” father she stops at nothing, even tearing the fabric between magic and reality, to meet Sosuke once again.

The premise to the latest Hayao Miyazaki animation very easily sounds as grand as our imaginations can take us. Having experienced it during the advance screening presented by Madman Entertainment, I can honestly say that this visual masterpiece presents itself in as impressive a flair as we have come to expect from Ghibli films. Yet true to form, Miyazaki never for one moment forgets the simple innocence of the two achingly adorable lead characters and the backdrop is set for a movie that is once again easy to fall in love with.

Good or bad, there was something to enjoy about every character in the story. The frenzied Morse code dialogue between LiSA and Koichi, Sosuke's parents, is bound to bring in the laughs. Ponyo's father Fujimoto, being the supposedly evil wizard conjures up the hilarity himself as he tries to retrieve his daughter in the most un-orthodox of ways. And of course, we have Ponyo and Sosuke, endlessly enthralled by each other's company and oozing of cuteness making almost every girl (and maybe some boys) in the audience whisper “kawaii” underneath their breath. On top of this, the interactions and the suspension of disbelief in magic by all of the characters made for a story that was not just magical but somehow also believable.

The attention to detail was superbly exhibited and of particular note was the presentation of the weather. There were hints of traditional woodcut designs in the artwork and which in no other Ghibli film did I feel like I was soaked in rain and blown over by the wind along with the characters. Joe Hisaishi's musical score is equally worthy of celebration as it elevates almost every emotion to new heights and is simply just hauntingly good. All in all, in terms of its ability to wow audiences, there's no arguing that this movie did just that.

I can't however say that this was a perfect film. The appeal of this movie to the younger audience will no doubt be unquestionable, but for a more mature audience there's probably a bit to be disappointed with regarding the story. My personal experience of previous Ghibli films was that though they were ultimately targeted for children, the appeal that they had was in their ability to make just about anybody remember their inner child and so enjoy it in that light. I failed to get that naïve way of thinking this time around though. In the end, I had a feeling of being out of place as though the magic of Ponyo never reached me, and that made me sad.

The movie is being shown in original Japanese with English subtitles. With my limited knowledge of the Japanese language, I discerned that quite a bit of liberty was taken with the English translations where many a times more western colloquialism was substituted for the Japanese even if perhaps a direct translation could have worked just the same. This resulted in dialogues that will be more familiar to any English speaking viewer but those expecting more Japanese nuances will probably not find very many.

Ponyo uses the classic “The Frog & the Prince” formula except multiplies it through several levels of grandeur. The simple narrative, awe inspiring visuals and easily loveable characters will make this a sure fire hit with the family. It may take a bit more convincing to get into the swing of things for the older generation, but that's probably when watching with the young ones will help get you there. There's something for everyone to like. It's just that good.

Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A

+ Dazzling artwork and cinematography
Can be a bit too childish in the story telling

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Production Info:
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Music: Joe Hisaishi
Original creator: Hayao Miyazaki
Character Design: Katsuya Kondo
Art Director: Noboru Yoshida
Animation Director: Katsuya Kondo
Sound Director: Eriko Kimura
Director of Photography: Atsushi Okui
Executive producer: Koji Hoshino
Producer: Toshio Suzuki

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Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (movie)

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