Monday, March 15, 2010


Ponyo (2008; dir. Hayao Miyazaki) is not as charming as Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away, but visually it is a stimulating, confusing, disturbing, phantasmagorical animation. This is a child’s tale about a boy who falls in love with a fish who happens to be the daughter of the wizard of the sea and of Mother Nature. The logic that underlies the film is not adult logic. Only a child could appreciate or follow it. Even as a fairy tale the narrative strains against credulity. The best way to approach Ponyo is to watch it image by image, with no concern for how the images cohere. Although Japanese folklore and culture must be the source of many of the images in this film, they remind me of nothing so much as childhood dreams (and nightmares). The main character, a five-year old boy, lives in a house on a tall peak on the coast. In one scene waves from a storm stirred up by huge fish who themselves are the products of waves invoked by the sea wizard, wash over everything and even lap at the doors of the boy’s house. As he and his friend Ponyo (the fish turned into a girl his age) sail in a boat through the sea, he recognizes fish from the Devonian period swimming beneath the boat. Ponyo herself while a fish takes care of myriad miniscule baby fish that swarm all over the place—are they miniature Ponyos? Is she their mother? When the boy first spies Ponyo caught in a jar jostling in the surf, he rescues her while ominous waves with large eyes pursue him. The wizard of the sea lives in a huge bubble on an underwater ship. The list could go on. English language voices were provided by such folks as Liam Neeson, Betty White, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, and others. Their dubbed-in voices seemed forced. The original Japanese voices with English subtitles might have worked better.

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