PONYO (Dir. by Hayao Miyazaki, 100 min., Japan, 2008)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
The tenth feature film from anime master Hayao Miyazaki is no radical departure from what we’ve seen from him before, it’s more feisty heroines, more strange morphing creatures and more warnings of nature out-of-balance. But it is also predictable that the 68-year-old Japanese national treasure evokes feelings of awe that no other animator currently working can. Ponyo contains most of the master’s pet themes, in a gentler package than any of his films since Totoro yet at his advancing age one should savor its ingenuity for we don’t know how many of these long-gestating features his amazing career has left.
Visually, Miyazaki’s films have their own intuitive logic which can sound a bit daft in print. Sosuke, a five year old who’s the man of the house while his father is out to sea, finds a magical gold fish he names Ponyo, who like Ariel in The Little Mermaid shows her love and appreciation by turning human. Ponyo’s father, once human himself, is the keeper of oceanic balance an he is determined to retrieve his young daughter from the human world. This sets off a cosmic flood which engulfs Sosuke’s seaside town, testing the bravery of these pint-sized young lovers as they set about to rescue the villager and restore the sea’s balance.
In a wash of beautiful pastel colors Miyazaki presents another dramatic story that, so unlike its U.S. counterparts, presents no villain to be vanquished but instead a system to be re-balanced. Its pleasures are in its glorious eye candy; like a psychedelic light show with rich emotional resonances, Ponyo thrills us with its stream of images showing one globular object undulating and changing into another. Certain story points make little sense: the way his mother risks both their lives with wild driving stunts (what, Sosuke’s mom, no time to belt your young one in?) and the weird arranged marriage planned for these irrepressible five year olds. The part of your brain that should complain over such irrationality is no match for the part that sits breathless watching such images of liberated wonder as the gleeful Ponyo, running madly through the waves on the backs of giant fish, waving at Sosuke as his mom whips their car along the stormy seaside road. I can’t explain how thrilling these images are, and for Miyazaki’s word-wide legion of fans, I don’t have to.