Ponyo (2008)

Ponyo (2008)

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One of these is Ponyo.
One of these is Ponyo.

Twitter Plot Summary: A fish wants to be a girl, so she runs away from her home in the sea and… well, becomes a girl. Lots of weird stuff goes down.

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Family/Fantasy

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Key Cast: Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Tina Fey, Frankie Jonas.

Five Point Summary:

1. This opening sequence appears to be your brain on drugs.
2. Sosuke’s mum does a 75% goose step every time she walks.
3. Ponyo’s half human/half chicken thing appearance is really weird.
4.  So the sea has flooded the whole place apart from Sosuke’s house. Did anybody die?
5. Liam Neeson has a particular set of skills… mad hair being one of them.

Five minutes in and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The opening is a psychedelic underwater sequence featuring a girly man (who we soon discover is Liam Neeson) and a fish with the head of a ginger girl. I fully understand that much of Japanese cinema is absolutely bonkers, but this really was odd. After the ginger girl fish reaches land she gets stuck in a glass bottle and is rescued by a young boy, Sosuke. The boy is then unknowingly chased by the sea, which for some reason is alive, and then chased by Liam Neeson who is trying to retrieve his daughter, the aforementioned ginger girl fish, the titular Ponyo.

On rescuing Ponyo, Susuke cuts his finger which Ponyo heals with a lick. By tasting blood she gains the ability to become human. Obviously. What then unfolds is a journey of true love (ahh bless) as Ponyo and Sosuke try and evade her father. Of course, the bigger problem is that Ponyo imbued her father’s magical potions (in an array of various bright colours, no less), and as a result of this super-powerful magic mojo causes a global imbalance which starts pulling the Moon closer to the Earth. Yep, still sounding weird. It’s another eco message movie – we’re destroying the planet (dumping stuff in the oceans and so on), and we should learn from this. But the people who need to learn this message probably won’t watch this film. So it goes.

Liam Neeson’s first line is “Have you found my daughter?!” That went down particularly well in this post-Taken world we live in. Neeson, it turns out, is also the father of hundreds of tiny fish, all of whom look like Ponyo. The logistics of this amuse me no end (think about it). In spite of this inherent silliness, Neeson is by far the best voice actor in the film, and potentially the best Western voice actor I’ve heard in any of the English dubs of the Studio Ghibli catalogue. Most voice actors, when dubbing Japanese films, have a stilted delivery that has the potential to become rather annoying. Liam Neeson doesn’t fall into this trap. He really embodies his character and Ponyo (the film, not the character) is all the better for it. I can’t put my finger on it, but he doesn’t seem as conscious of the fact he’s voicing an animated character as most do. Simon likes this.

He's their father. Go figure.
He’s their father. Go figure.

Miyazaki chose to animate the film like a moving pastel painting, and rather typically for a Studio Ghibli production, looks fantastic. It suits the gentle yet esoteric tone of the story. It also allows plenty of scope for Miyazaki to really let his imagination fly. There’s even a few sections that Ang Lee appears to have half-inched for Life of Pi, the luminous whale in particular. I remain a steadfast fan of hand-drawn animation, and in this day and age I appreciate it more when a director doesn’t follow the crowd and do everything on a computer. The charm of animating something “old school” is lost. Not that I don’t like computer generated animation, far from it, but hand-drawn is always where the best stuff will be. Also, seeing as animation allows you to do literally anything, when Miyazaki makes a film it is completely unfettered. There are no budget concerns and the only limit is his imagination. Much like Metal Gear Solid numero uno Hideo Kojima, having the freedom to tell the story you want to tell is never a bad thing. Subsequently, creators of this ilk hold the envious ability to delight and amaze audiences of all ages. That’s a rare talent, whether you’re a fan of Japanese animation or not.

So is Ponyo any good? I’d have thought it would be clear already, but I am still yet to see a bad Studio Ghibli movie. It’s delightfully nutty yet equally as charming, and yet another winner in the Studio Ghibli stable.

Favourite scene: Sosuke and his mum driving back to their house as the waves give chase.

Quote: “So Ponyo, what’s your Dad like?” “He hates humans! He keeps me in a bubble, so I swam away from home!”

Silly Moment: A baby oozing fluid from every orifice, then being Tangoed by Ponyo. Amusing yet peculiar.

Score: 4.5/5

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