Ponyo is the eighth film that Hayao Miyazaki has directed for Studio Ghibli. For a lot of anime fans the reading of this review can end there. It’s another Miyazaki film, and that’s enough to warrant buying the DVD or Blu-ray.
If you’ve made it this far then maybe you’re sitting on the fence as to whether Miyazaki has pulled some more magic out of his hat again or not. It’s certainly a piece of work Miyazaki can call his own, as he wrote, animated and directed it. In fact, he took personal charge of all the waves and sea effects and in the process set a new personal record of 170,000 images drawn. For a 69-year-old that’s an astonishing feat over a two-year filming cycle.
Ponyo isn’t actually the full title of the film, it should be referred to as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, but as is usually the case, Western audiences are thought to prefer a shortened name by the film’s marketing departments.
The story centres on a girl who starts out in life as a fish. During her travels with her many sisters under the sea, she strays from the group on the back of a jellyfish, gets caught in a fisherman’s net, and stuck in a glass jar. Unconscious and washed up at the shoreline, she is discovered by a little boy called Sosuke, who promptly saves her.
Sosuke is enamoured with what he believes is a goldfish and names her Ponyo. The relationship of boy with pet fish would continue if it wasn’t for one small event. As Sosuke attempts to get Ponyo out of the jar, he manages to cut his finger. Lying in Sosuke’s hands, Ponyo licks the human blood away, sparking a reaction in her of wanting more than to be just a fish in the sea.
We then see Ponyo’s destructive attempts to become a girl and spend her time with Sosuke, her father’s determination to take her back to the sea and control her urges, and the eventual unbalancing of nature in the process.
Ponyo is Miyazaki at his best, there is no question of that. The artwork is up to his usual high standards, and no one depicts children and their actions as well as Studio Ghibli. You instantly form an emotional attachment with each of the main characters and completely lose yourself in the story.
With a running time of 97 minutes Studio Ghibli has done well to fit the story in so neatly. The first hour flies by as Ponyo causes untold destruction and then joins Sosuke on his travels. This could easily have been a much longer film and I don’t think it would have suffered for being so.
Ponyo belongs on the shelf of any Miyazaki fan, but it will be entertaining for just about anyone. Young children will love how colourful it is, older children will easily engage with Ponyo and Sosuke. Parents can relax and lose themselves in the rich world Miyazaki has created. It also helps that the US voice acting includes well-known actors such as Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, and Cate Blanchett.