Hayao Miyazaki's newest film arrived in the US on August 14th,courtesy of Walt Disney Studios. Finally! The Japanese DVD is already on sale. Since my introduction to his work ("Spirited Away", the 2002 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature), I've been an ardent admirer. Miyazaki is an animation wizard and "Ponyo" is cinematic magic. His images take the audiencenot only to another world, but also another time – childhood. This movie has been worth the wait.
Originally titled "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea", in the US, this feature adopted a new title, "Ponyo." A talented vocal cast was added to provide the English dialogue. Noah Cyrus is the voice of red-haired Ponyo and Frankie Jonas is the voice of five-year-old Sosuke, her friend. The story is simple. Fujimoto sums up the plot when he speaks to his love, Gran Mamare. Their daughter wants to be a little girl. She loves a little boy. The balance of nature has been disrupted. The problem? Their daughter is a goldfish.
Although from different worlds, Ponyo (goldfish) and Sosuke (boy) are both in Erikson's third psychosocial stage – the preschool years. The task of this stage is learning courage and initiative, traits that are necessary as children begin to navigate their world. Boy and fish are superstars in this regard. For example, Ponyo shows initiative. She escapes from her family and runs on and over the waves of the ocean towards Sosuke. She defies her father's pleadings to stay home. Sosukeshows courage.He ventures, without a second thought, into the unknown post-tsunami world in search of his mother.
The relationship between the pre-school tykes is based on more than exploring together.Ponyo possesses an irrepressible affection for Sosuke. She declares,"Ponyo loves Sosuke! Ponyo loves Sosuke!" In return,Sosuke is protective ofPonyo. He fills a green pail with water to make a home for her. He covers the pail with a leaf to ward off feline predators. They care for each other and want to be together. It's friendship deluxe. It's love, pre-school style. As they explore and play together, their love is tested. Will Ponyo's parents let her go?
There are notable supporting characters.Betty White as Yoshie is one of the trio of ladies at the senior center.Her voice conjures up images of a warm and loving woman a la "Golden Girls" (TV sitcom from the 80's). Ponyo's sisters are nameless and numerous, but spunky and loyal. They explode on the screen like bright, red, fish fireworks when they swim furiously by Ponyo's side. Lastly, there is the ocean. She is alive and feeling in this movie. Her movements and moods are captured by Miyazaki's masterful strokes. With hand-drawn images, her jubilance, fury and forgiveness are revealed in beautiful, evocative scenes. My favorite is the can't-wait–to-see-you, can't-live-without-you jubilance on the screen when Ponyo, traveling atop the spirited waves of the ocean, runs towards Sosuke.
"Ponyo" is appropriately rated G. There is no violence. When Mother Nature creates a tsunami, there is no death or destruction. No matter what fury the ocean unleashes upon the town, the two children remain above the water. The boy's house does not flood, and the charmed boat they are on keeps them safe and dry. There is no going underwater, not even the fear of going underwater. The children are safe in Miyazaki's world, physically and emotionally.
The humor is kid-friendly. There is physical humor when Ponyo runs around and then bumps into the patio door. There is linguistic humor. Ponyo' sutterances are repetitive. She shouts, "Ship shape! Ship shape! Ship shape!" as she does a happy dance on the boat. The humor in "Ponyo" is innocent, playful and infused with childhood wonder.
Now back to thesimplestory. Will the balance of nature be restored? Will Ponyo become a little girl and stay with her beloved? In this G rated fantasy, it's hard to imagine an unhappy ending, but you'll have to watch the movie to find out.
Go see this movie! Go see this movie! It's a wonder to behold.
Susie Hou, M.D.
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