Hayao Miyazaki is a master storyteller. His films have enchanted the imagination of children throughout Japan since the early 70s when he started on the great Japanese adventure series Lupin the Third. He became an underground hit when he released his film My Neighbor Totoro in the US in the early 90s. But he never got real mass market appeal until his film Spirited Away beat the CGI-blockbuster Ice Age at the 2003 Academy Awards.
Ponyo is his second film since the Oscar and it almost brings Miyazaki’s career full circle. It features the voices of Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Betty White, Matt Damon and Noah Lindsey Cyrus as Ponyo.
Ponyo is the story of a stubborn, yet ambitious goldfish mermaid who wants more than anything to be human. So she breaks away from her father and washes up on shore where she meets Sosuke. He is so nice to her that they become fast friends much to the dismay of her father. But Ponyo love for Sosuke makes her magical powers unstable and the balance between earth and water is threatened. The only way to restore the balance is for Sosuke to love Ponyo in return. He must be tested.
It is a whimisical fairy tale in the spirit of “The Little Mermaid” except with a Japanese sensibility of how nature is influenced by man’s often careless decisions. The kids in the theatre I saw it loved every second. There is a reason why Miyazaki is called the Walt Disney of Japan.
It is a beautiful story full of wonder and amazement. The animation is astounding especially in the ocean scenes where they had to animate sometimes six or seven layers of movement. I cant imagine how difficult that must be for 2D animators.
Ponyo brings Miyazaki’s career full circle with him returning to a more innocent story geared more to children. And that is fine by me. Now bring on Miyazaki’s version of the series of novels called EarthSea. Can’t wait for that.
4.5 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer