May 6, 2011

[Movies] Ponyo (2008)

Ponyo (2008)I'm eternally thankful to my partner for introducing me to Studio Ghibli and its well-crafted movies. It's more than just the beauty of the animation and the quality of almost every single panel / scene. Then you add in the wonderful storytelling and the constant reminder that just because it's a cartoon doesn't mean it's targeted for children alone.

The question of Studio Ghibli's continued survival in these 3D-focused and CGI-obsessed times has been floating around there a lot. Despite all the awards that the studio has won over the years, news keeps popping up that the Studio may be in trouble even with support from the likes of Disney-Pixar and such.

So every time a new Ghibli movie is announced and then released, it's a cause for minor celebration at least for my partner and I. And this is considering that I'm still trying to work through all the other Studio Ghibli movies ever released, I'm sort of burning the candle at both ends for now.

And its glorious.

Ponyo is a 2008 animated fantasy movie written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and released by Studio Ghibli. It's officially his eighth movie with Studio Ghibli and it won the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year for 2009.

Our story begins with Ponyo (Yuria Nara / Noah Cyrus) herself, a little fish-like creature who is under the care of her father Fujimoto (George Tokoro / Liam Neeson). While on an outing together with her siblings, she wanders off on her own and floats away from Fujimoto's vessel on a jellyfish. She eventually gets stranded on a nearby beach and is discovered by Sōsuke (Hiroki Doi / Frankie Jonas), a young boy who is a son of a sea man. His mother is Lisa (Tomoko Yamaguchi / Tina Fey) who works at a nursing home supporting various elderly ladies. Sōsuke decides to call his little fish girl Ponyo and does his best to keep her safe.

Eventually Fujimoto and his wave spirits manage to get Ponyo back but now she refuses to even acknowledge her real name "Brumhilde". In defiance she declares that she loves Sōsuke and then starts to change. Somehow she has been changed after healing Sōsuke's cut on his finger and now she's taking on human properties by growing arms and legs. Fujimoto tries to suppresses her powers but eventually she escapes while he is away with the help of her sisters. Thus she goes off to find Sōsuke while the magic that she has released into the seas has started to cause massage tsunamis, thus threatening the the safety of the small fishing village.

The movie did feel like it focused more on a story meant for younger audiences. This isn't a bad thing - just something that felt rather noticeable in contrast to other Ghibli films. That didn't take anything away from the movie as a whole - in fact it added a nice little taste of whimsy to the whole experience.

As usual, the movie was visually stunning. Ghibli animators have a definite feel for bringing animals to life and this movie focused on bringing to life the various wonders of the sea. In fact, I think this movie deserves special mention just for how amazingly they managed to bring jellyfish to the screen in a manner that balances realism and yet the joy of animation. The colors were vibrant and the movement was realistic and so on and so on and so on.

I can't quite get over how smoothly they manage shape-shifting in this and other Ghibli movies. This time around they had to deal with the disturbingly subtle water spirits and of course how Ponyo's use of her abilities triggers a sudden shift back to a more fish-like form. Human one moment, then very alien the next and back again. Brilliant and done ever so flawlessly.

The story as a whole was rather simple, admittedly. It's a puppy love story between a boy and his fish, if you want to break it down to its simplest level. But no one ever said simple stories were bad - in fact being able to distill a story to just a fundamental level and telling it well is not always an easy thing. For the most part I loved how they managed things this time around - but then again Ghibli never seems to disappoint me in this department.

Music was delightful and added a lot to the mood. However I felt it wasn't quite as powerful and distinct as some past movies. This is not to say the scoring here was bad or something - just not quite on the same magnitude of greatness of some of the other Ghibli movies. But hey, maybe that's just me.

In the end, Ponyo is just another amazingly well-crafted animated feature. One can look at individual elements of the movie all day but when you put them all together in the way Studio Ghibli does. It gets 4 surprising uses of Ponyo's powers out of a possible 5.

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