Friday, August 14, 2009


Perhaps it was because I have seen the English version, but to me Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo" is a disappointment and is one of the director's very few. It's not the imagery that's the problem here: Miyazaki animates in his standard way, touching every shot up with great little details. When "Ponyo" reaches underwater, there is no shortage of well-drawn sea creatures to delight us. But the subtleties in the background are only half of a Miyazaki piece. There is usually an adroit story to supplement.

"Ponyo" is about a young boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) who finds a little creature which he christens Ponyo after she eats a lot of ham. What Sosuke doesn't know is that Ponyo (actually named Brunhilda) is the daughter of the keeper of the ocean, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson). This makes it hard to maintain a relationship. Another factor is that both of the protagonists are (as people have said) "around the age of 5". It would be interesting to see what happened as the two grew up. But that is not shown here. Ponyo could be seen, however, as a sort of spark in Sosuke's cliche-founded life. You see, his father (Matt Damon) is away at sea almost every day, and his mother (Tina Fey) works at a nursing home. There is one kind of bizarre scene where the two parties (the father on his boat and the son and mother in their house) communicate via lights, involving the phrase "bug off." That's all you really find out about Dad, the cardboard cutout that he is.

Well, Ponyo eventually is taken back in by the ocean at the fervent command of Fujimoto so that the world will stay in balance. What's a little fuzzy is that Fujimoto is painted bad since he wants to break up the relationship, partly because he hates humans, but also because he wants there not to be an apocalypse. But if it can also be solved by just making Ponyo a human... Whatever. What "Ponyo" the film is short on is logic. There's a tsunami scene in the film in which Sosuke's mom, who's a terrible driver and who cannot seem to compute there's a tsunami on, attempts to drive home for no reason other than to drum up some sort of tension. No one would do this. And when she gets home, the tsunami hardly enters her mind again. It redefines the phrase "natural disaster." No wonder no one pays attention to Fujimoto.

I won't go on berating the plot: you can see for yourself. As Ebert said in his review of Miyazaki's previous effort, "Howl's Moving Castle," if you are a fan of the director you are bound to check it out. I won't complain about the annoying voicework since it probably is only a problem in the dubbed edition, but I will say that the editing is tackily done by Miyazaki and Takeshi Seyama. If the screenplay translates to anything similar in Japanese, and it's not a matter of matter of badly interpreting Japanese in English, it's poor. There are passages of monotonous dialogue that are possibly padding to stretch the film from a short to a feature-length film. But enough: my review will not dissuade you if you are a Miyazaki fan. If you have not seen any other of his work, let me say this: he has done much better in the past and if you want a taste of what he really can do, go with "Spirited Away" or "My Neighbor Totoro". This is the movie of his to skip out on. C


rubi-kun said...

First of all, good blog!

On to my main point, I think you might be somewhat misreading Ponyo. Whether you like its terms or not, on its own terms Ponyo is a great success. It's not without logic, but rather Miyazaki decided to make the film through the warped logic of a five-year-old. Because of this, the narrative is far from his strongest but the craziness has a charm of its own. It's not Spirited Away because it's not trying to be.

Nick Duval said...

I see your point, and it's an interesting experiment on those terms. But it's not viewable on multiple levels, like Spirited Away. I just wasn't able to warm up to it as much. Others were, as you can see by the metacritic score, etc.

Thanks for your first comment also.

-- Nick