By Adam Roche
In a Miyazaki film, nothing is formulaic and anything goes. For some, his films can be a relatively disorientating experience, but only because the power and breadth of his imagination fuel stories and characters that dare to go to places usually unseen by Western audiences. Surrender to it, and a whole new world awaits with every film. With Miyazaki’s latest film, ‘Ponyo’, perhaps he has crafted his most charming, and crucially, his most accessible tale yet.
‘Ponyo’ is the tale of Brunhilda, a fish-girl who lives in a craft at the bottom of the sea, belonging to her father, a former human who has renounced his mortality. Longing for adventure, Brunhilda escapes to the surface, where she becomes stranded. Sosuke, a local boy, rescues her, believing her to be a goldfish, and renames her Ponyo. They quickly bond, and Sosuke is shocked to find that she can not only speak, but declares her devotion to him too.
Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto, rises from the ocean and reclaims her, but unable to control her desire to return to Sosuke, resolves to fetch Ponyo’s mother, the benevolent spirit of the sea. Ponyo escapes again, and using her father’s magic elixirs, turns herself into a human child and returns to the surface to seek out Sosuke. This magic, however, causes an imbalance in the oceans, which begin to rise and swallow up the land.
To give any more away would be spoiling things. As you would expect, subsequent events occur that would be hard to imagine for yourself.
Along with ‘The Princess And The Frog’, this is turning into a stellar year for animated features. ‘Ponyo’ features not only an enchanting array of characters, but some of the most ravishing animation that Miyazaki has yet produced. For such a waterlogged film, the surroundings never lose their beauty or their intricacies. One of the most remarkable things about it, is that this feels like water with weight. It’s evident in the way the tides slop and slurp at the houses and bay walls, how the gentle movement of the ocean’s surface gently nudges and pushes at Sosuke’s house in the latter half of the film.
When Ponyo returns to Sosuke having become human, we are treated to a bravaura sequence where she runs across the crests of the coming waves as they rush to envelope the land. It’s a truly breathtaking scene; heavy, rushing waves juxtaposed with Ponyo’s flittering, almost hummingbird-like sprint, as an astonished Sosuke watches, goggle-eyed from a car that is itself fighting and gasping its way along a rapidly drowning road.
And yet, the weight and texture of the film can also be found in the film’s quieter scenes, such as the echoed clomp as the lid is placed on a noodle pot, or the sight of a stray octopus finding its way into the living room through an open door. There is so much to see and enjoy in the film that simply listing its attributes would take a writer with far more time on his hands than I can lay claim to.
‘Ponyo’ no doubt lacks the dark edges of ‘Spirited Away’ or ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, but make no mistake, this is a full-fledged Miyazaki fairytale, equally as worthy as any of his past works. Just because the smile never leaves your face when you watch it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t got everything. Darkness comes in greys here rather than blacks; Sosuke’s father who never seems to be home, the cold fright of wondering if your mother made it across the water, and the tight gnawing hope that Ponyo doesn’t end up as sea-foam should Sosuke make the wrong choice…
Ravishing and adorable, ‘Ponyo’ is another wonderful addition to Miyazaki’s legacy. Magical and fascinating enough to be the entry-level film for all newcomers, and yet full of the rich beauty established fans have come to expect. (And psst, it’s my new favourite…)
To celebrate the release of ‘Ponyo’, Electro Candy are proud to bring you a retrospective of Miyazaki and Ghibli’s work beginning next week, featuring guest writers taking a look back at their favourite Miyazaki/Ghibli films and moments. Next week, Steven Wright takes a look back at ‘My Neighbour Totoro’.
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