Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ponyo (2008)

Like Kurosawa before him, Hayao Miyazaki's fame could easily be alluded to his little "Japanese" twists on Western stories. Kurosawa adapted many a Shakespeare play and managed to make them his own. Who really thinks about Macbeth when watching Throne of Blood (1958)? Same goes for a lot of Miyazaki's work: Spirited Away - personally, the best animated film of all time - is nothing but "Alice in Japanese Wonderland".  For his latest, the head honcho of Studio Ghibli takes The Little Mermaid (1989) as inspiration and delivers a kid's story that references Cambrian Explosion and Devonian aquatic fauna. 

Ponyo is one of his tamest films to date - both aesthetically and in content. More My Neighbour Totoro than Princess Mononoke, it still dazzles with brilliant 2-D pastel and water colour animation. How he meshes the two and come up with a seamless bakground is an achievement in itself. The film is about a goldfish (Ponyo), who yearns to be human and her friendship with a young boy, Sosuke. After his aqua-dwelling evil wizard father takes her back, she escapes from his underwater castle and unleashes a "Cambrian Explosion" and soon a tsunami drowns the entire town. In order to re-balance the order of nature, Ponyo and Sosuke must prove their loyalty to each other. Confused?

Yes, it is confusing. Quite how young 'uns will manage to follow all of this beggars belief. Although, I have to say all those little kids that watched it with me were pretty entertained. And they were able to read the subtitles without any hassle - so, the onus is on you reader.

Perhaps Miyazaki was aware of the lukewarm critical reception of his previous outing, Howl's Moving Castle, and went back to a more personal story. Although it feels similar to My Neighbour Totoro - his most accessible film to date, despite the massive hamster-monsters - what it reminded me most was Kiki's Delivery Service (yes, I've seen all of his films). Like Kiki we are in an unnamed small Japanese town that has an unexplained charm and exoticism - it is familiar, yet very alien. Having said that neither Sosuke nor Ponyo are in the same league as fully-developed characters as Kiki was.

I felt that Ponyo was missing something - an engaging story, perhaps. Even Howl had a fuly-fledged storyline. Ponyo just seems to bounce from one event to the next and leaves so much for wanting. It is not a bad experience per se, but knowing what Miyazaki is capable of it is fairly disappointing.

1 comment:

bheeler said...

I've only seen Alice in Japanese Wonderland, which I did enjoy. This one looks fun...and its interesting how they get big name actors to do the english dialogue these days.


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