+ Beautiful Studio Ghibli animation
+ Appeals to both children & adults
+ On par w/ other Studio Ghibli films
With the release of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, it seems that Hayao Miyazaki is set to join the ranks of such legendary filmmakers as Akira Kurosawa, Charlie Chaplin, and Cecil B. DeMille who all continued to make films into their 70s and 80s, well beyond the age most people retire. Hopefully, if he paces himself, anime fans around the world will have more beautiful and charming films to look forward to from master animator and true artist, Hayao Miyazaki.
4 out of 5 · Highly Recommended
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea Movie Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 4/7/2008
Hayao Miyazaki holds a special place in the heart of many anime fans. In a career spanning over 40 years he has made dozens of popular anime films including Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. His fans differ in which of Miyazaki's films are the best but they tend to agree that he is a master of the animated film. Although in semi-retirement for roughly the last decade, he emerges from time to time to direct projects he has felt passionate about. These post retirement films include Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and most recently Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Miyazaki's ninth film since the founding of Studio Ghibli, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is the story of a friendship between a mermaid girl and a young boy.
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is an enchanting film which tells a beautiful but simple story. Although it will remind audience members of other of animated films such as The Little Mermaid or even Pinocchio, it is crafted in the inimitable Miyazaki style and is a vision all his own.
The story begins with a wordless sequence as our heroine, Ponyo, a mermaid (or perhaps "fishgirl" would be more accurate) as she attaches herself to a jellyfish and slowly rises to the surface of the ocean. Miyazaki imbues his version of the watery world with the same sense of joy and wonder that he has often shown in his depiction of flight in such films as Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso. It also includes the concern for the environment which is a common theme in most, if not all, of Miyazaki's films, surfacing in the port city of Tomonoura, Ponyo is nearly caught up in a fishing net, and nearly dies when a glass jar gets stuck on her head.
Ponyo is rescued when she washes ashore near the home of Sosuke, a local kindergartener. Taking Ponyo for a goldfish, Sosuke smashes the jar and places Ponyo in a bucket of water which he takes to school. Sosuke's thoroughly modern mother Risa works next door to Sosuke's kindergarten in a local retirement home while his father is the captain of one of the many commercial vessels that call Tomonoura their home port. Ponyo is pursued and taken back to the sea by her father, a mysterious, misguided wizard who wants to flood the world, wipe out humanity, and bring about the "Age of the Sea". Taking a cue from Richard Wagner's Die Walkure, Ponyo, whose real name is Brunhilde, rebels against her father's wishes and dreams of living among humans. She uses the magical powers to transform herself into a human and returns to the surface to seek out Sosuke.
Show More Ponyo is rescued when she washes ashore near the home of Sosuke, a local kindergartener. Taking Ponyo for a goldfish, Sosuke smashes the jar and places Ponyo in a bucket of water which he takes to school. Sosuke's thoroughly modern mother Risa works next door to Sosuke's kindergarten in a local retirement home while his father is the captain of one of the many commercial vessels that call Tomonoura their home port. Ponyo is pursued and taken back to the sea by her father, a mysterious, misguided wizard who wants to flood the world, wipe out humanity, and bring about the "Age of the Sea". Taking a cue from Richard Wagner's Die Walkure, Ponyo, whose real name is Brunhilde, rebels against her father's wishes and dreams of living among humans. She uses the magical powers to transform herself into a human and returns to the surface to seek out Sosuke.
Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea is not a perfect film but it is a perfect Miyazaki film. It contains many of his most well known touches and carefully weaves some of his favorite themes into the story. Visually, Ponyo stands amongst some of the finest animation ever produced by Studio Ghibli. The film is almost entirely hand animated, if any computer animation was used it was so well integrated into the production that it isn't noticeable. Miyazaki drew the images of the sea and waves himself, the intricate level of detail in the animation lead to the creation of 170,000 separate images - a record for a Miyazaki film. Like his other films, animators working on Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea were very careful with their depiction of the natural world. The fish and other sea creatures depicted in the film are almost photo realistic. The character animation by Studio Ghibli is also superb, superior at times to other studios; their handling of Sosuke, Ponyo, and other children is sublime and especially observant.
Miyazaki is supposed to have modeled Sosuke on his son Gorgo at that age; he clearly remembers the adventurous behavior of five-year-old boys and the animation reflects this in his body language, facial expressions, and movement. Sosuke runs headlong into adventure, is easily excited about things that adults take for granted, and takes joy in everyday experiences. The animators are equally impressive their treatment of Ponyo, she has a wonderfully expressive face even when she portrayed as mostly fish, when she takes on human form she is a very tactile being; the animators allow her to use both her fingers and toes to explore her new world.
Show More The sequence in which Ponyo gives herself human form is a masterstroke of animation on par with similar transformation sequences in Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Set to Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, Ponyo's transformation sequence gradually layers in elements until we see her rushing to the surface of the ocean running along the backs of living waves in a thunderstorm. It's an amazing, bold sequence which cements Miyazaki's reputation - if he retires…again…and stays retired he can look back on this sequence as some of his best work.
As with other Miyazaki films, when the plot kicks in, it unfolds rather gradually and organically. There aren't any real villains just people in a bad situation. Ponyo's father isn't evil, merely misguided. When Ponyo uses her magical abilities to transform into a human she doesn't realize her immense power and accidentally tips the balance of nature. Her father and her mother, a goddess-like being of immense power must work together to restore the balance.
However, the movie isn't really about the plot but about the characters. Besides Sosuke and Ponyo, the story focuses heavily on Sosuke's mother, Risa. Miyazaki is described as a feminist and this comes across in the depiction of Risa. She is a fully contemporary woman, she works outside the home, let's Sosuke refer to her by her name rather than "Mom" and although not a single mother, she might as well be, her husband's job keeps him away from home for long stretches of time. Risa is also an exuberant if not always careful driver; Miyazaki gets good mileage out of several impressive sequences involving Risa racing up and down the hill between their home and the center of town.
If the script fails in any way, it is in the depiction of Sosuke's father. Koichi is away at sea when the film begins and only appears in the film a handful of times. He is shown so little, that when the film's pivotal disaster comes along, and Koichi is actually in mortal danger, it is difficult to care about him. He does have one fun scene when his ship is prevented from returning to port. The ship is anchored close enough to home for him and his family to communicate using signaling lights. He tells Sosuke to tell Risa he is sorry that he is unable to come home. Sosuke does so and Risa angrily runs to the light and repeatedly flashes Stupid, Stupid, Stupid at her husband before returning to her bedroom to sulk. However, even this moment serves to further develop the relationship between Sosuke and Risa, Koichi only serves as a catalyst to develop their understanding.
While it may seem similar to other children's films, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is uniquely Miyazaki - beautifully animated, character driven, kind hearted without being sickeningly sweet, and exciting without being gratuitously violent.
It seems that Hayao Miyazaki isn't cut out for retirement. It seems that rather than slowly fading away in the kind of retirement home depicted in the movie, he only intends to slow down a bit, continuing to produce animated films as long as he can still hold a pencil. If Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is an example of the quality of films he will produce during his "retirement", then perhaps the best is still yet to come from the man often referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan.
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