Thursday, September 16, 2010

Something else completely different: Ponyo

It is easy to see why Ponyo has such a devoted following among discerning filmgoers: it is a fable full of fantasy with a very simple story line and plenty of fantastical characters. It is essentially a three-hander. Ponyo herself should be a grotesquerie, a demon, a nightmare created by an evil genius; a fish with a human face could only happen is a horror movie--unless it was from masterful hand of Hayao Miyazaki and then it if becomes as loveable as any movie character. Her opposite, the person who completes her and allows her to become human--which is not species chauvinism, it is clear from the beginning that she isn't really a fish--is Sosuke a five-year-old boy who  rescues her after she is stuck in a bottle and washed up on shore. Her first line is "Ponyo loves Sosuke" which sums up their relationship perfectly. The third part of the trio is Lisa, Sosuke's mother. The consumate movie mom, she is sensitive, loving, courageous and a great driver--if you need to get your tiny car across a flooded ditch during a typhoon Lisa should be at the wheel.

Lisa is the adult necessary for the Ponyo/Sosuke story to unfold. If it stayed at the level of the magic fish girl and the young boy it couldn't develop. When Sosuke tells her about his new friend, a ham loving goldfish who has changed into a little human girl she simply says that life is amazing. In doing so she welcomes Ponyo into her extended family (which includes, in addition to her sea captain husband, four old ladies who live in the home for the aged where she works) and into the human world generally.

Ponyo is full of operatically grand and fantastically impossible characters. Ponyo was the result of the union of Fujimoto and Gan Mamare. Fujito is an easily distracted and not very competent wizard, formerly human and still with a lot of human characteristics including his hair-metal coiffure and chalk-striped suit. He hates humans because they destroy the environment and would like the world to reverse evolve back to the Cambrian age. Gran Mamare, his estranged but still friendly wife, has a human form but is both gigantic (although never threateningly so) and ephemeral, seeming to be as much a part of the spirit world as of the fishy tangible one. Ponyo has many younger sisters--I am pretty sure they are all girl fish--who have proto-human faces and who, one imagines, may want to test their destiny on dry land at some point. The old ladies change from a dour pain filled existence in death's waiting room to people who are joyous, active and who love a good time.

One of the many strengths of this movie is lack of exposition. We don't know anyone's background, simply what they are in the moment. Before the huge storm Lisa is piqued at her husband who has to take his ship on another short voyage instead of coming home that night. Sosuke exchanges loving greetings with him using Morse code sent with a signal light while Lisa sulks and then blows up a bit at him sending her own Morse signal. We get the idea that this is a not uncommon situation--which is all the "backstory" of any of the characters that I can recall.  There are amazing scenes throughout, from the hugely cinematic--Ponyo running over the huge waves caused by the typhoon, keeping up with Lisa and Sosuke in the car along the cliff road with something very close to "The Ride of the Valkyries on the soundtrack--to the intimate and tender--Sosuke hiding Ponyo's fishbowl in the bushes then coming back to make sure that she will be safe from wandering cats.

Ponyo is a great movie.


  1. Hi ewaffle --

    So glad you viewed Ponyo and love it. One thing I really love about Ponyo the character is how amusingly pro-active she is -- think of the ham but also the kiss! :b

    Was this your introduction to the works of Hayao Miyazaki? If so, would like to recommend "My Neighbor Totoro" next! :)

  2. The only other Miyazaki film was "Howl's Moving Castle" which I thought was great--saw it on the big screen when it was first released in the US. Thanks for the tip--"My Neighbor Totoro" is now on my Netflix queue. :-)

  3. Hi again --

    My two cents: it may have its fans but I actually think of "Howl's Moving Castle" as a lesser Miyazaki movie. So you have a whole bunch of wonderful Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films awaiting your viewing! :)