In acclaimed Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki’s new film, Ponyo, water-based fish chase after human beings, goldfish cannot decide if they want to be human or amphibian, and giant mermaids swim around the ocean without a care in the world. Just another day in the director’s imaginative and, at times, terrifying fantasy world.
Upon escaping from her sorcerer father’s bizarre underwater lair, Ponyo, at the moment a goldfish, ascends to the earth in a search for freedom. She is picked up via bucket by a Sosuke, a young five-year-old who is perplexed by the fact that his newly found goldfish can talk, and enjoys eating copious amounts of ham yet brushes it off like it’s no big deal. This is the case with most of the characters in this film. Apparently such things as water monsters, giant mermaids, and talking half-human goldfish are fairly normal, as when all hell breaks loose in the film’s final act (via an exciting storm), everyone is bizarrely calm and together. Apparently this happens all the time.
I feel as though if characters in an American animated film or a live-action production acted this way, it would come across as the result of a poorly written script or bad acting. The fact that it somehow works in not only this film but many of Miyazaki’s other works is what makes me admire films such as Ponyo so much. The character’s reactions are absolutely bizarre at times, and the narrative features many questionable twists and turns, yet despite all of it, the entire thing somehow meshes together and is enjoyable as all hell, nevertheless.
That being said, Ponyo does jump the shark a bit during its final act. Upon unleashing a magical well which makes the sea freak out, rise, and attempt to take over human life as we know it, the resolution comes quickly -- perhaps too quickly. The climax is certainly apparent, but the coming down afterward is too quick, prompting many to most likely think “That’s it?” as the credits roll. No matter. The film is still utterly breathtaking, narrative issues aside. Many people were up in arms over the shift in animation style (or “downgrade,” as some have called it), but honestly, there’s nothing to fear. Yes, this isn’t quite as detailed as Spirited Away — it looks a lot more like traditional hand-drawn animation, but there are so many scenes that will cause you to drool all over your television in excitement that it’s barely noticeable. If you don’t gasp at least once during the last half hour, you should check your pulse.
Ponyo swims onto DVD this week, but I implore you...no, I outright command you: Thou shalt watch Ponyo on Blu-ray, and on no other silly non-hi-def format. Purchasing the Blu-ray gets you both the Blu-ray and the DVD, and the difference is astounding. The DVD doesn’t look bad per se, but the Blu-ray is flawless. There’s no better way to watch a film of this magnitude and beauty, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than the best. Ponyo deserves it, I assure you of that.
'Ponyo' is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Walt Disney Pictures