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Ponyo Review

August 12, 2009 10:14 p.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando's review of Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo"

Related Story: Ponyo


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS Film Review: "Ponyo"
By Beth Accomando
Air Date: August 13, 2009

Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki [Hi-yow Mee-ah-zak-ee] is best known here in the U.S. for films such as "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke." Now he delivers a magical tale called "Ponyo." KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has this review.

PONYO(ba).wav SOQ 3:50

(Tag:) "Ponyo" opens tomorrow (Friday August 14). You can find highlights of Hayao Miyazaki's Comic-Con panel on Beth's blog at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie.

The fact that Disney is releasing Hayao Miyazaki's films in the U.S. is both fitting and ironic. Miyazaki has been called the "Japanese Disney," and the label is accurate in the sense that he too has built an animation empire. His films also share a similar artistry to the early hand drawn Disney cartoons. But as one anime scholar pointed out, Miyazaki could more accurately be called the Kurosawa of animation since he tells grand sweeping tales rich in layered meanings. But that complexity gets reduced to clichés in Disney's trailer for the dubbed version of "Ponyo" opening in U.S.

CLIP Ponyo Trailer "Ponyo you have to trust me, you're the only one who can save the planet do it now!"

The differences between Disney and Miyazaki are brought into further relief by the fact that "Ponyo" is a loose adaptation of "The Little Mermaid." Disney did it's own adaptation of that Hans Christian Anderson tale back in 1989. Disney turned the story into a personal quest about following your dreams in order to find your true self. Miyazaki's take is more about acceptance and finding your place in the world, and doing so with the guidance and blessing of older generations. There is no real villain in Miyazaki's film either, just an overly concerned father who doesn't know how to deal with his daughter.

"Ponyo" opens with a wordless and breathtaking montage of a magical undersea world.

CLIP Music and SFX

There we find awild-haired, sunken-eyed man named Fujimoto collecting potions from iridescent squids. He's joined by his daughter, a goldfish with a human face. We're charmed by a watery world where prehistoric creatures swim alongside their contemporary counterparts. But we're also appalled by the garbage cluttering the sea floor.

CLIP SFX of garbage being hauled up by a boat

Miyazaki doesn't lecture us about the need to go green, he simply shows us the ocean in all its splendor and the pollution that threatens it. Then he lets us draw our own conclusions. Miyazaki employs a delicate touch even as he revisits favorites themes about humanity's disregard for the natural world, and nature's revenge.

From a technical perspective, "Ponyo's" visuals are impressive because they're not flashy 3-D computer images but lovingly hand drawn 2-D animation. Each of Miyazaki's frames is like a work of art, and the simplicity of the 2-D animation engages our imaginations in a way that CGI sometimes fails to do.

"Ponyo" recalls Miyazaki's early film "My Neighbor Totoro" in its joyous celebration of the wonders of childhood. Five-year old Sousuke finds a goldfish trapped in a glass jar and sets her free.

CLIP SFX cracking glass

He reveals his discovery to his mom.

CLIP Souske: Mom, I think I'll call her Ponyo, she came to me and she might be magic. I found her and she's my responsibility.

Then Ponyo grows arms and legs, and turns into a little girl.

CLIP Souske: Ponyo?
Ponyo: It's me.
Souske: Mom Ponyo came back and she's a little girl.

One of the delights of Miyazaki's films is how the real and the fantastical exist side by side. In "Ponyo" no one questions that a goldfish can have a human face or that it can morph into a little girl. The film boasts a child's wide-eyed, casual acceptance of the limitless possibilities of the world. Not even the adults offer any arguments to the contrary. But only in a Miyazaki film could waiting for a bowl of ramen to cook prove as wondrous a moment as a fish transforming into a child. That's Miyazaki's gift - to find magic in the real world, and a realistic sense of detail in the fantasy one.

Once again Hayao Miyazaki proves that he's not only a master animator but also a master storyteller, making "Ponyo" one of the best films of the year of any kind.

For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.