A bunch of us finally caught (no pun intended) Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea over the weekend. It starts with the basic premise of Ponyo, a little goldfish, who escapes her father’s ship and rides to the surface out of curiosity but she is foiled by a bottle she gets stuck in. Once a young boy named Sousuke rescues and carries around the stranded Ponyo for a day, she is hooked and decides to become human. Sousuke and Ponyo’s relationship is very sweet and innocent as one could imagine. There are some very magical moments as Ponyo, along with her father who wishes to purify the oceans, and her mother all possess powerful abilities and when they are used they create some of the most beautiful parts of the film. An unsurprising fact is that this film has some very visually striking moments, but surprisingly the animation quality for many parts of the movie seemed less than Ghibli-esque. My biggest concern with the film was Miyazaki’s decision to essentially throw out some of the narrative and conflict on a whim and then to tie it up with a less than satisfactory climax to the story. In fact, I can’t really discern any climax at all. About two-thirds of the way through any amount of suspense starts to dissipate and the rest of the film is rather meandering and boring. Ponyo loses its momentum and refuses to deliver on the build-up it created for a good portion of the film. While I found some of the visuals quite appealing, the story was rather lack luster and in the end that matters much more.
As has been said many times, Miyazaki needed someone to stand up to him and keep him in check. This could have gone from an okay film to a Ghibli master work had someone had the bravery and power to make this film go through one or two more retoolings to tie everything together. The ending was extremely anticlimactic causing one to wonder if Miyazaki tired of the story and decided to just end it as soon as he could much like a Neal Stephenson novel. They made such a big deal that Ponyo’s parents wanted to test Sousuke and Ponyo’s love but in the end it comes down to a simple: Do you like Ponyo? Check yes, no, or maybe. The test did not need to be hard or dangerous, it just need to be one Sousuke could fail because that makes things not only dramatic but cathartic when they are overcome. Ponyo’s mother could have made duplicate Ponyo’s and see it Sousuke could tell the real one apart. Or maybe Sousuke could have to make some sort or moral judgment due to a test set up by Ponyo’s parents but was unaware he was being tested. Overall the movie looks great and is really fun at many points, like when the typhoon comes, but it does not work as a cohesive narrative film. The characters had a lot of potential that was partially realized but never truly developed. It’s worth a rent to take in the visuals but not worth buying. Hopefully if Miyazaki makes another film he will let people help him cut out what is extraneous and focus on what is important.
I am very excited to present the latest piece of art we had commissioned at AnimeNEXT! It is by syun rii who does many different styles for her fanart. I really wanted something chibi so I think she was the perfect choice! You can check out her gallery, too.