For the past 25 years, Hayao Miyazaki has been captivating audiences of all ages with his whimsical, melancholic and often beautiful animated features. The computer generated output of Pixar may be pushing the boundaries of digital animation, but there’s an attention to detail and an almost magical quality to Miyazaki’s hand-drawn work that keeps it relevant and fresh despite the continuing march of technology.
Miyazaki’s most recent film, Ponyo, is a continuation of his pet themes, filled with meditations on man’s relationship with nature and the wonder of childhood. Borrowing heavily from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Little Mermaid, while playing on the shore near his idyllic coastal home, five-year-old SÅsuke rescues Ponyo, a fish-girl who, after sampling a drop of SÅsuke’s blood and developing an odd dependency on ham, decides she wants become a human.
The power used to cause her transformation, however, throws Earth’s natural state of balance out of whack, causing a violent deluge as the Moon closes in on the Earth’s orbit and satellites begin tumbling from the sky. Only by passing a test set by Ponyo’s mother, the Goddess of Mercy of eastern mythology, can SÅsuke and Ponyo restore Earth’s natural balance.
Viewed in the context of Miyazaki’s other films, Ponyo ranks among the animator’s lesser works, lacking both the narrative drive of his earlier films such as Castle In The Sky and Princess Mononoke, and also some of those films’ depth of character.
Both SÅsuke and Ponyo are likeable enough, but never come to life as so many other Miyazaki protagonists have. SÅsuke’s mother, Lisa, provides the most memorable and sympathetic character, a fiery-tempered but good-natured woman with a penchant for driving at break-neck speed.
The film’s pacing is also curiously uneven, with a long, languid first half giving way to an unexpectedly abrupt conclusion, and one of the most horribly catchy end theme tunes of any Ghibli film.
But, while Ponyo doesn’t quite hang together as a narrative whole, there are still individual scenes that shimmer with Miyazaki’s old magic. The diversity of undersea life is brilliantly drawn and animated, and the sequence where SÅsuke’s town is flooded, as the transformed Ponyo sprints across a raging sea that roils like giant salmon, is a standout moment.
The destructive power of nature is neatly contrasted with scenes of almost surreal stillness. There’s a scene where Ponyo encounters a human infant for the first time, and the curious, transfixed gazes they exchange make for a moment that is both amusing and faintly unsettling in its atmosphere.
While not in the league of much of Miyazaki’s previous work, there’s still much to enjoy here, and Ghibli fans will, in any case, appreciate the typically intricate animation, which is as brilliant as ever.
Ponyo is the kind of film Blu-ray was invented for. With glorious, clean colours and every line of Miyazaki’s character work perfectly defined, Ponyo is a visual feast in high definition. The deluge scene mentioned earlier looks spectacular, with every rolling, fish-like wave cleanly defined and vibrantly coloured.
The disc also comes loaded with plenty of extras, including interviews, trailers and making-of documentaries. One documentary provides a particularly illuminating insight into Miyazaki’s inspiration behind the film. The concept was apparently dreamed up after the animator spent several weeks alone in a quiet house by the sea, almost exactly like the one that SÅsuke calls home in Ponyo.
For fans of Studio Ghibli’s films, this Blu-ray release of Ponyo will make the perfect addition to their collection.
The Film:The Disc:
Ponyo will be released on Blu-ray on June 7 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.