Hayao Miyazaki, director of ‘Spirited Away’, writes and directs Ponyo. He and his team of animators did most of the work on this of course, however the cast lists also boasts such names as Matt Damon, Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett. The titular character (Noah Cyrus) is a magical fish that falls in love with five year old Sōsuke (Frankie Jonas), and so endeavours to become a human – much against the wishes of her ‘father’ Fujimoto (Liam Neeson). Now there’s a storyline you’ve never seen before!
The story does sound odd on paper, but on screen it makes perfect sense. Of course at first Sōsuke is the only human to fully grasp the situation, his childlike naivety allowing him to take such a fantastic tale in his stride. A strong environmentalist flavour is present in the movie, and nature exacts vengeance upon the humans for decades of abuse, giving a sense of urgency and tension within the piece. If the plot worries you then relax – it really does play out superbly. Besides I didn’t explain it very well *cough*
Miyazaki is somewhat of a legend in Japan and with Japanese individuals everywhere, and is very much appreciated by film buffs that have been looking in the right places and by fans of the animated film genre. Apparently this isn’t his finest work, which must mean he is a quality director because this is a perfectly wonderful work by itself.
The hand drawn – yes hand drawn animation, is a joy to behold. The characters are as real as any meatbag wandering this Earth. The music is well scored. It is all so marvelous and quietly awe-inspiring. So very simple that it draws you in, and so captivating that you don’t want to leave the little world created from the imaginings of a Japanese pensioner.
Flaws are hard to come by. Yet there is a little something holding this little picture back from the 5 stars. For one, its delightful simplicity leaves the overall film a little… well simplistic. For someone familiar with the genre there were no real surprises, it chugs along at its own happy, little pace; seemingly unwilling to shake you by the collar and get you thinking. I said the characters are ‘real’, yet allow me to backpedal at alarming pace to inform you that they are real in the sense that characters in a dream are real. I may just be talking gibberish here (it wouldn’t be the first time) but try and stay with me: they are real within the (tiny) universe of the film, but analyzed outside of that context and you may start to wonder why a responsible mother would leave her five year old alone in the house during a tsunami.
You should fall in love with the film if you have any soul. It should perk your interest and point you towards Miyazaki’s better efforts. Sitting back and watching this thing should be a highly enjoyable experience and should make you feel better about the world. It should alert you to the fact that hand drawn animation can still warm the soul. It should probably be a five star film. But it is not. Go see it anyway; you owe it to yourself for being such a nice person.