Ponyo: Miyazaki-prepped sashimi

September 6, 2009

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea/Gake no ue no Ponyo
Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki
English dub cast: Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, etc.
2009, Studio Ghibli; 86 minutes.

***

(As forewarned)

DELICIOUS PONYO-FLAVORED MOVIEPonyo is minimalist by Hayao Miyazaki standards, and also supposedly his hushed farewell to the world of cinema. It is a decadent, psychedelic animation project from the artist and layman’s perspective, but compared to his traditional phrasing and presentation, here Miyazaki has trimmed the fat (even Joe Hisaishi’s musical score is restrained) from his storytelling and stirred the pot just enough to make one of the best kids’ movies of all time. But really, this is to be expected from a clever cat like the mendacious Miyazaki, aye?

In viewing Ponyo I finally sort of “got” Miyazaki and his magical symbolism. He finally let a few clues drip from the chalice. Miyazaki stands in in every one of his movies as the old person who sees the magic in the world and selflessly loves children but is powerless to actually harness or manifest the world’s natural magic himself (although he also is kind of… everyone in his stories… and not to mention, in real life he has a serious clue — he knows the score to this samsaric game!). This time around, the wizard of the sea, the keeper of the ocean and its elements, has a daughter — Ponyo, who seeks to escape her underground lair, and in her curiosity, eventually wishes become a human. I’ve seen Ponyo marketed as a reinterpretation of The Little Mermaid story, by Hans Christian Anderson, which it is — but Miyazaki and co. have realized the ultimate depth possible here while managing to sidestep the endless melancholy of the original tale.

Ponyo is cleverly depicted as a “goldfish,” but with a face. The other ocean sprites, Ponyo’s brothers and sisters, are similarly depicted, but without concrete identity — and it is seen later that it is because they are not merely physical beings. I really don’t want to say much more, but Ponyo is a joy to watch because one is getting a direct window into the nature of the elemental worlds and all creation.A mermaid, in the classical folk sense, as well as in the European Hermetic tradition transplanted from ancient Greek/Egyptian philosophy and ritual, is a water sprite — an undine. A mermaid is not just some sea-centaur — a limited, concrete physical being, as is popularly illustrated with movies like Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid.

Ponyo is in line with Miyazaki’s other kids’ movies, Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro, in that there is no malicious villain and though there are action scenes, there is no violence. The conflicts are internal tests of self-confidence and truthfulness within the story’s characters. It is short on real “action” and the pacing goes pretty slow, especially for older viewers (5+, haha) who are more interested in booty calls or bitching about politics or getting their graduate degree in American Studies.

And yet even they can rest assured: Ponyo contains one of the finest animated scenes off all time. You’ll know the one when it happens — it’s one of the most psychedelic experiences ever concocted, quietly bridging the spotlight reserved for greats like Akira, Fantasia, and …. er…. a bunch of other Miyazaki/Ghibli films. It is pretty gladdening to witness, and evokes a glimpse into the eddying, ephemeral nature of creation that is beyond the scope of the movie that contains it.

Although we can question whether Disney would still release Hayao Miyazaki’s films in the USA if they weren’t lucrative, symbolically it’s very significant for Disney to have done so. Miyazaki is not Disney’s heir, but a superior breed of artist that they were tasteful to align themselves with. Miyazaki has taken children’s stories to a level beyond Disney’s threshold and actualized the highest level of potential within hand-drawn animation. He is the embodiment of the age of organic, hand-drawn animation, and the medium retires with him. It’s pretty cool that he did what he did.

@ IMDb

______

The original heir as director to Studio Ghibli after Miyazaki’s retirement was originally supposed to be Yoshifumi Kondo, whom passed away suddenly in 1998.

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