Finally I had the chance to watch Ponyo on the Cliff courtesy of one of my local libraries. I know, I know, the movie’s been out for a while, and yes had I really wanted to watch it that badly, I would’ve found some way to get my hands on it rather than waiting for a library to get rid of their copy to make room for new movies. …Okay so I may have forgotten about Ponyo for a bit, but I did always want to watch it. And now I have.
(Oh: I should probably warn you about spoilers – not that I’m deliberately spoiling the story for whoever hasn’t seen it yet…)
Quick Summary: Ponyo is a magical fish-girl whose adventurous heart takes her far from home where she meets a boy named Sosuke and falls hopelessly in love.
I’ve loved pretty much every Miyazaki + Studio Ghibli film I’ve ever watched (I say “pretty much” because I didn’t really like Porco Rosso. I just didn’t get it) and I think I’ve seen them all – and then some that were done outside of Studio Ghibli. Unlike its older film family members, Ponyo had a different style of animation: simpler and more… back to basics, in a sense. The scenery is still gorgeous, the characters well depicted and believable, and the close attention to detail makes even the most fantastical ideas come to life.
I’ve always found Miyazaki movies to be character oriented – almost to the point where the plot of the story is overshadowed. Or perhaps, the story itself is the story of the character’s development, of their journey. There’s always a hint of romance too, but it’s used as a means to propel the story, to push the main characters, to encourage growth and development. I think Howl’s Moving Castle may be the only other movie (that I can think of) where the romance plays a more central role in the story itself, because it’s also quite important in the story of Ponyo and Sosuke. Keep in mind, however, that Ponyo and Sosuke are just children. Five year-olds, to be exact. And absolutely adorable.
In one of the bonus features of the second disc (another plus of acquiring my copy from the library as opposed to just downloading the movie itself) Miyazaki explains that he wanted to make a movie about children for children – hence a simpler plot, and perhaps the reason for the simpler art style. He wanted to show how complex and comprehensive children can be at the tender age of five, and how they are much more capable than adults often think they are. Sosuke is a prime example of this, being a very mature, very responsible, very dependable, and very brave young boy. His family is awesome. I never figured out why he calls his parents by their first name – at first I thought it was just his mother, Lisa, which led me to believe that maybe Lisa was his adoptive mother, but he refers to his father as Koichi as well. Was he adopted into the family? Or are Lisa and Koichi’s style of parenting just informal like that? Anyway, the family he’s got really is amazing. Lisa has the perfect balance between caring for others and caring for her own. She treats Sosuke as a capable, comprehensive individual but also recognizes that’s he’s just a child. She presents him opportunities to be responsible but doesn’t dump unnecessary responsibility on him (are you listening, Matsumae Satsuki). She clearly loves Sosuke very much, but doesn’t dote on him nor does she spoil him rotten. Not too much is revealed about Sosuke’s dad, but despite being away a lot and having a very dangerous job, Koichi seems to have a good relationship with his family. Koichi is very proud that Sosuke can effectively communicate with light signals, and boasts about his son to his crew members.
Now Ponyo, on the other hand, has a more… trying relationship with her supernatural parents. Her father, Fujimoto, is the ex-human (I don’t know if he’s actually no longer human or if he just doesn’t consider himself human anymore) “magician” or wizard who creates all sorts of interesting things in the depths of the ocean. Actually, I couldn’t really figure out what Fujimoto was all about, but all I know is that I didn’t hate him. The guy basically wanted to hang on to his daughter for as long as he could; he didn’t want her to grow up and leave home, find a nice man and settle down to start a life and family of her own. What father doesn’t experience this with his beloved daughter? (Side story: After one of my exes broke up with me, my own father told me that I should give up dating and just stay home, and then I wouldn’t cry anymore.) Ponyo expressed she loved her mother a lot, but that she could sometimes be scary. Typical mother, really. However, aside from her size, Ponyo’s mother was never shown to be scary at all; just… intimidating, I suppose.
Being only five years-old, the drama of Sosuke and Ponyo’s character development is counter balanced by the creative and light hearted art style. For example, the typhoon waves that swell and submerge Sosuke’s seaside town were for a time, illustrated as giant fish and therefore not quite as scary as real typhoon waves are. In the same way, Ponyo leaving home and her determination to become a human girl – against her father’s will – was depicted as an adventurous rather than rebellious. Sosuke and Ponyo’s romance is also very innocent. Their interactions are so adorable and genuine, and it’s hard to not smile when they’re together. But you’re not meant to ask what will happen two or three or ten years down the road. You’re not meant to wonder if they actually get married when they grow up. You’re not meant to wonder what their children will be like. All you’re meant to know is that for the simplest of all reasons, they fell in love with each other.
Ponyo on the Cliff is really delightful to watch especially if you just want a treat to some eye candy and a light-hearted, sweet story. It’s well written, well animated, has good pace, and amazing characters you can really invest in.