Monday, August 17, 2009

Movie Review: Ponyo

Ponyo ****
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki.
Written By: Hayao Miyazaki.
Starring: Cate Blanchett (Gran Mamare), Noah Lindsey Cyrus (Ponyo), Matt Damon (Koichi), Tina Fey (Lisa), Frankie Jonas (Sosuke), Kurt Knutsson (The Newscaster), Cloris Leachman (Yoshie), Liam Neeson (Fujimoto), Jennessa Rose (Kumiko), Lily Tomlin (Toki), Betty White (Noriko).

I hesitate to use the word magical in my reviews too often, because after all, it is rather clich├ęd and cheesy. But with a movie like Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo, it really just about the only word that properly describes the movie. It is an animated children’s movie from Japan about two children and their relationship together. It is a sweet, innocent movie full of eye popping imagery. It is a rather simple movie, but often I find that the simplest movies are the most touching, and dare I say it, the most profound.

Sosuke (with the voice of Frankie Jonas, the brother not in the terrible band) is a sweet and innocent five year old boy who lives in a house of cliff with his mother Lisa (with the voice of Tina Fey), and occasionally his father Koichi (Matt Damon), although he is more often away on his boat than he is at home. One day, Sosuke finds a goldfish in the ocean by his house, and brings her home with him. He names the fish Ponyo, and the two share a connection right away. What Sosuke does not realize is that Ponyo is not a regular goldfish - she is a magical goldfish. Her father is Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), who creates all the creatures in the sea. He hates humans, and the pollution they cause to their beloved ocean. He tries his best to keep Ponyo away for Sosuke, but cannot. Ponyo is magical, and uses her magic to transform herself into a little girl, which ends up throwing out the whole the nature of things out of whack. A tropical storm hits, and floods the entire town, leaving Ponyo and Sosuke to fend for themselves, and prove their love for each other.

Miyazaki is a master animator, revered by animators the world over. He has won an Oscar for his brilliant Spirited Away, and probably have won another for Princess Mononoke if they gave out the award back then. His last few films have been distributed in North America by Disney, who with the help of Pixar. I could not be more grateful to them for bring these films to the big screen here, which is the best, make that the only way, to see these films properly.

Ponyo opens it a marvelous wordless sequence underwater with Fujimoto floating in an under water bubble, creating the undersea life. Ponyo is the most curious of his creations. She cannot help herself from exploring her surroundings, which is how she ends up being caught by Sosuke in the first place. The film is full of magical undersea creations, from the prehistoric fish who swim around, to the evil looking waves that Fujimoto uses to track Ponyo down. Then there is Gran Mamare (Cate Blanchett), the sea goddess who is Ponyo’s mother. She is a great, flowing woman who floats through the water with ease. She is a wonderful creation, that only Miyazaki could come up with.

There is not a moment in Ponyo that is not filled with great visual imagination. The images in the film are wonderful, awe inspiring works of art. The film is one of the most stunning looking films of the year. It is matched by the great story. Yes, the story is simple enough for a child to follow, yet in that simplicity, Miyazaki reaches some rather profound truths. If the film is not as complex or quite as intriguing as Mononoke or Spirited Away, that’s because Miyazaki is not reaching quite as far here. He knows its story strength lies in the simple, innocent emotions of the two children at the heart of the story, and he follows that through to the end.

What can I say to make people want to see a film like this? Parents may not take their kids to see the film because it doesn’t advertise as much, as the traditional, hand drawn animation is not as “exciting” as the computer animation that everyone else seems to like. Adults without kids will not go to see the film by themselves because it’s a kid’s movie. What I can say is that Ponyo is one of the great movie going experiences of the year. If you miss it, you have no one to blame but yourself.

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