Oh Wanderers, the GUST for this issue has fallen to me, and – in line with my previous review – it’s going to be another anime offering. Ponyo is a reimagining of the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid, and as such it seems appropriate to draw some comparisons with Disney’s take. Initially titled in English as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, Ponyo is a 2008 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. Warning – since we suspect most of you are probably familiar with some version of the tale, this review is not spoiler-free.
Brunhilde is a fish-girl who lives with her father Fujimoto, a once-human scientist who now lives underwater, and her hundreds of smaller sisters. One day, while out on a trip with her sisters and father, Brunhilde is moved to see more of the world, and, while her father is distracted by his work, she escapes from his four-flippered submarine and floats away on a jellyfish. From this vantage point, she floats to the surface and sees a young boy named Sosuke who lives in the house on the cliff. She becomes trapped in a glass jar, and is brought inland on the tide. She is discovered by Sosuke who releases her from her prison and names her Ponyo, cutting his finger in the process. She licks his wound, which heals almost instantly. Meanwhile, a distraught Fujimoto is searching frantically for his daughter. After the wave spirits take Ponyo away, Sosuke is heartbroken and goes home with his mother, Lisa, who tries to cheer him up, to no avail.
Ponyo and Fujimoto have a confrontation, during which Ponyo refuses to let her father call her by her birthname, “Brunhilde”. She declares her name to be Ponyo and voices her desire to become human, because she has started to fall in love with Sosuke. Suddenly she starts to grow legs and turn into a human, a power granted to her by the human blood she ingested when she licked Sosuke’s finger. Her father turns her back with difficulty and goes to summon Ponyo’s mother, Granmamare. Meanwhile, Ponyo, with the help of her sisters, breaks away from her father and uses his magic to make herself fully human and returns to Sosuke and Lisa. The huge amount of magic that she inadvertently releases into the ocean causes an imbalance in the world, resulting in a huge tsunami. Worried about the residents of the nursing home where she works, Lisa leaves to check up on them, promising Sosuke that she will return as soon as possible.
Granmamare arrives at Fujimoto’s submarine. Fujimoto notices the moon appears to be falling out of its orbit and satellites are falling like shooting stars, symptoms of the dangerous imbalance of nature that now exists. Granmamare declares that if Sosuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored. A still-worried Fujimoto reminds her that if Sosuke fails the test, Ponyo will turn into sea foam. Sosuke and Ponyo wake up to find that most of the land around the house has been covered by the ocean. Since it is impossible for Lisa to come home, the two children decide to find her. With the help of Ponyo’s magic, they make Sosuke’s toy boat life-size and set out across the ocean. Sosuke and Ponyo encounter Fujimoto, but Sosuke doesn’t trust him and attempts to flee. However, Fujimoto captures them. Sosuke is reunited with Lisa and meets Granmamare, who asks if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sosuke replies that he “loves all the Ponyos.” Granmamare then tells her daughter that if she chooses to become human once and for all, she will have to give up her magical powers. Ponyo agrees to this, so Granmamare encases her in a bubble and gives her to Sosuke, and tells him that kissing the bubble will complete Ponyo’s transformation.
The artistic design in this film is simply beautiful, especially in the underwater scenes, and is perfectly accompanied by an inspired score composed by Joe Hisaishi. The English dubbed version has a fantastic array of voices – many of which are familiar to any film-lover – including Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Noah Cyrus, and Frankie Jonas.
The complex nature of the plot combined with the simple yet effective artwork, touching on many themes including love, childhood and coming of age, means that this film can be watched either as light entertainment, or as something to really get your teeth into.
So, Wanderers, why would you want to watch Ponyo? Because it’s interesting to see how different cultures interpret the same tale. Because it’s both soft and comfortable, and difficult and challenging. And because, frankly, if anyone drove on the roads the way Sosuke’s mum does I’d be scared witless.
Hannah Carter (is a little bit in love with the innocence of this film)