Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
My Spill rating: Matinee
Let me start this review by saying I love Hayao Miyazaki films. Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostoro is the most complete perfect animation movie I have ever seen. (Yes, you die-hard anime otaku, it’s better than Akira. But that’s another argument for another time) My Neighbor Totoro always brings a smile to my face and takes me back to a time of innocence when the world was still full of magic. Any time I feel myself in a rut, Kiki’s Delivery Service takes me by the hand and shows me that art is something that comes from within. Nausicaa is a movie that always brings tears to my cold dead eyes every time I see it. (This music video
will have me in my bed curled in the fetal position bawling without fail) For me. the world of Hayao Miyazaki is always filled with magic and mystery that has me wide-eyed and fascinated. That being said, it pains me to say that his latest movie, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, did not live up to the masterpieces of the past, and in fact, left me disappointed as I shuffled out of the movie theater to contemplate what I had seen.
It is interesting that “pretentious” was a recent hot topic of discussion on Let’s Do This because knowing what I know now after having viewed the movie and read more about its conception, that is the word that crosses my mind... Hayao Miyazaki has publicly stated that this movie departs from the standard Start-Buildup-Climax-End method of storytelling and that he “wanted to make a movie that could be understood even without a firm grasp of the basic rules.” I feel it is of the utmost importance that anyone who views this movie should know this beforehand.
The story: Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea is the story of a young boy, Sousuke, who lives in a small town by the sea and a young mermaid (?) Ponyo. Ponyo is the daughter of the goddess of the sea and Fujimoto, a magician who lives under the sea. One day, against her father’s wishes, Ponyo sneaks out of her submarine home to explore the outside world and meets and befriends Sousuke. The two form a bond and Ponyo soon after longs to become a human being.
The premise of the story is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story, The Little Mermaid, but is less a story about romantic love and more a story about bonds. The main characters are children which gives the story a more innocent feeling to it. The art is spectacular, with the backgrounds drawn in a style that looks almost like water color paintings in a picture book for preschoolers. The animation is top notch, but that comes as no surprise from an animation company that has consistently made movies of the utmost quality.
... Now that I’ve mentioned all the good things about the movie, it’s time to point out the bad. If I were to encapsulate Ponyo in a single word, it would have to be “conceited.” Ponyo, the heroine of the movie is cute. Very cute. So cute, she crosses the border into saccharine. Hayao Miyazaki said that he wanted this movie to break free of the standard methods of storytelling because to constantly adhere to the same formula would eventually rot whatever story he would want to tell. Well, he may have broken free of the standard formula of storytelling with Ponyo, but it looks like the formula for cuteness is alive a kicking. Throughout the movie, scenes of “cuteness” and “innocence” seem forced and in the viewer’s face all the time. It couldn’t have been more blatant than if a burly man had tied me to my chair and spent the movie yelling at me stating “See!? This is cute!! See!? This is innocent!!” And while it was cute and it did feel innocent, I couldn’t help feeling that the movie was trying too hard to recapture the same atmosphere of My Neighbor Totoro. Also, as constantly mentioned throughout this review, Hayao Miyazaki purposely tries to tell the story in a non-formulaic manner, which, I think, hurts the movie a great deal. The lack of major climax towards the ending really leaves the viewer somewhat unfulfilled. That being said, young children will love this movie for its cuteness and pretty visuals and older viewers will have a good time as well, so long as they don’t hold the movie to the same level of Princess Mononoke or Laputa.