Yay! I got to watch a G-rated Miyazaki film with my family. Being the resident Ponyo expert, I can say that there is nothing offensive in this movie. Okay, Ponyo actually gets her powers from drinking human blood...not unlike a vampire. Also, there's a weird relationship between a little kid and a fish. Okay, this movie is The Shape of Water for kids. Look at subversive Japanese Hollywood infiltrating our children's minds and warping them! Hard G!
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
This is the one that we had on a loop in our house when my daughter was two. I was surprised that she wasn't scared by it, but it is a ridiculously tame movie. My son got a little creeped out by it because he's the babiest of the babymen. But he cuddled up with me and powered through it. I love how the movie says that this movie was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid because this movie is absolutely insane. That said, I've never read the Anderson version of the story. I've been taking the Disney (you know what I mean!) version as the basis for the story. If you didn't know, this movie is nothing like the Ariel version. That's probably a pretty great thing. Ariel fans out there, continue liking your story. It is fine. I like the absolutely crazy goldfish-drinks-human-blood version. Honestly, this movie is just so weird but I love it.
Some animators lose their souls with the advent of technology. Looking at the new Simpsons stuff, as much as I like the movie, it does seem pretty vapid in terms of artistry. But I'm jumping back and forth throughout Miyazaki's history and I hate to say that I like the look of his later movies better. There's something about early Japanese animation, especially the stuff in the eighties, that just kind of looks cheap. The design is all there throughout all of Miyazaki's films, but the ambition doesn't really get to the level we see in Spirited Away or Ponyo. Those movies look absolutely stunning. My wife, who is not exactly on board with me binging all of this Studio Ghibli stuff, was reminded by Ponyo about how beautiful that movie really is. She loves, and I have to agree, that all of the fish are different fish. And they all look gorgeous, even when they are weird looking. This, again, ties into Miyazaki's mild obsession with nature. There is a reason that people become marine biologists and I'm pretty sure they are all somehow tied to Ponyo. (Okay, I'm actually doing a podcast with a student who is crazy into nature, so I'll get her two cents on Ponyo while that is happening.) But Ponyo with a new environment might be Miyazaki's biggest challenge. I'm so used to him making the skies look absolutely fantastic that it is interesting that he actually flourishes with aquatic environments more than anything else. I'm not saying that his other landscapes aren't impressive. But I am really impressed with how Ponyo absolutely crushes. Part of it is his color palate. It's so absolutely bizarre to have the Ponyo goldfish look nothing like goldfish. It's such a weird choice. It has to be so that the audience can relate closer to the odd relationship between Sôsuke and Ponyo. Like, anthropomorphizing these fish goes a long way to just stating that Ponyo is a human stuck in a fish body. (I don't feel like I'm spoiling anything. This is one of the few plot points it kind of shares with the Ariel version.) But having these solid colored characters interacting with these complex animals around them. I feel like Miyazaki has this odd playfulness with two very distinct animation styles. He has these technically impressive fish and designs everywhere. But then he has waves that have eyeballs and goofy crap everywhere. These shouldn't really work, but they really do. It's such a cool look to the movie and I don't understand his genius. I probably never will.
The story is really weird. Like, really weird, but I like it so much. Okay, I also acknowledge that my brain won't shut up during it. I always watch things criticially. I have to. It's the only way that I really derive joy from anything I watch. But part of my brain really wants to shut up and just enjoy the odd rollercoaster ride that occurs. From that perspective, I love it. It hits that absolutely crazy part of my brain that actually likes anime. It's not a huge part of my brain, but it does exist. I think that is why I'm always bummed out when I don't really dig anime as a whole because most of it doesn't speak to me. I know that there's something there that isn't gelling with me, but I want it to. Ponyo hits that sweet spot of bizarreness that would make me like anime. But I also can't shut off the part of my brain that says that this eight year old made a lifetime commitment to a fish who has no idea what human nature is going to be like. Like, are Ponyo and Sôsuke going to have a really intense argument one day. How do you know who you are going to love when you are eight? But, like, everyone including Sôsuke's mom are rooting for Ponyo and Sôsuke to work out. Part of it is that the moon is going to crush the Earth (Watch the movie. I couldn't spoil that if I tried.). The other part is that they all want these little kids to find happiness. This is a LIGHT SPOILER, but when Ponyo / Brunhilde's dad officially gives over his daughter, he also hands Sôsuke his toy boat. If you are handing your daughter to someone who is concerned about the status of his toy boat, there might be a problem. But the movie kind of builds this relationship into the movie quite organically. I'm not sure how I understand that. It's mostly because everyone in the movie acts normal enough to establish that this is a world unaware of magic, but they also just react to things in the most insane ways. Like mom, she drives like a maniac. Not like in a hilarious way? She's racing a typhoon and just is all over the road. I know, it's animation. But the ladies in the nursing home are acting really really weird. They have this weird dynamic and there's one who has these conspiracy theories. So when things go supernaturally weird, I guess it makes sense that everyone just plays along because they are established to be a heightened version of reality.
Can I just question chicken Ponyo? ODD SPOILERS: Ponyo turns into a weird chicken from time to time. It's supposed to be this transition stage between Ponyo the goldfish and Ponyo the girl. It's when she is using her magical abilities that she turns into chicken Ponyo. With the Ghibli binge, I noticed that one of the cool tricks that Miyazaki does is that he doing this cool morphing effect with many of the movies he works on. Sometimes these are absolutely seemless, but Ponyo completely avoids that and makes the chicken Ponyo the most jarring thing in the world. I don't mind. I find Chicken Ponyo hilarious for some reason. But considering how much of the movie is devoted to making you forget that there shouldn't be a relationship between a goldfish and a little boy, it's so weird that the movie goes out of its way to remind you that not only is Ponyo a goldfish, sometimes she looks like a chicken. Like, the movie never says that Ponyo is a chicken, but we all recognize chicken feet when it comes around to it. But Chicken Ponyo is just one element of what I consider absolutely bizarre choices when it comes to design. I know that Fujimoto looks like the wizard style of Howl. I know that has to be a cultural thing and I'm sure that Mark from the board probably knows the inside and outs of weird Japanese wizard designs, but these designs are just the weirdest. The sentient waves? Weird. The fact that Ponyo's sisters turn into eels which then turn into storm waves? Everything is just the wackiest and I just love it. As weird as Totoro gets, that movie looks straight up grounded, Catbus and all. I think that's why Ponyo might be my secret favorite for rewatchability. It is absolutely insane. Like, Ponyo eats ham. No explanation. She just loves ham. Okay. Go with it, crazy movie. And making it cool for my kids to watch definitely helps. I almost got them to eat ham. I know that isn't a major thing for most people, but these kids don't eat ham. End of story.
I love Ponyo. Both theme songs are running through my head right now and I don't mind that one bit. I don't have a Liam Neeson impression, but I do have a Liam Neeson in Ponyo impression, and that's more on brand anyway. If you haven't caught that one, please do. It's great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.