By Alec Horowitz
The film “Ponyo” could of started with the words “It was a dark and stormy night”. Though, it’s quite a sunny day when the film opens, Japanese animation god Hayao Miyazaki’s new film is a whimsical story of a boy and his first pet, girlfriend and sister. Heck, it’s the story of all three, who happen to be the same creature. Where does Miyazaki come up with these stories? I don’t know. The man is a natural storyteller, but this one is so out there that even a seasoned film critic like myself found myself shaking my head in wonderment. The story is a little far fetched in some places, like the reaction of the boy’s mother when she first comes upon the fish turned human during the end of a rain storm, where she looks at the boy and his new found friend and simply says “Life is amazing” right away, with any more bewilderment. Though, it has to be let passed. To enter the world of Miyazaki is to enter one of unquestionable, joyful and even dark magic.
Many of the reoccurring themes of a Miyazaki film are played out in this film. Ponyo comes from the ocean, from a wizard father who used to be a human himself. In the American translation, Liam Neeson voices the father with effort, as he angrily acts as both a father trying to keep his young daughter under control. He scoffs at the idea of his daughter turning into a human. “I used to be a human once” he says with distain, “They use the ocean as their own personal garbage can!” Much of the scenes with the water have trash floating around. This is a similar environmental message that Miyazaki presented in his 1997 film “Princess Mononoke,” which dealt with the environment in a similar way. A young knight meets a girl who thinks she’s a wolf and was raised by wolfs, but falls in love with him, a human. She is in fact, a human too but is torn between her human blood and her wolf family, as she feels a reasonability not to join those who are destroying the forest where her adopted film lives.
Ponyo, though, unlike the heroine in “Princess Mononoke”, isn’t an adult and isn’t adopted. She is a part of nature. She isn’t someone who is adopted by nature. She desires not to be one with nature. She wants to be human. Though, this brings up an interesting question. Though, we as humans abuse nature. Are we a part of nature? She wants to be with this boy she meets. She and this boy have formed a magical friendship with this boy and the boy with her. Watching the boy in this film, there’s an interesting progression. We see the boy’s love go from a gold fish to a girl, all in one. Though, at the end of the day, this film is about as much about forces of nature as it is about children.
Maybe the biggest connection Miyazaki is drawing between a young child and forces of nature that the connection of innocence and joy they have. This film is about the forces of nature, and children too, symbolized by the friendship between a boy and his goldfish. One of the wonderful things about Myazaki film is he strikes that right balance between the innocence of children and magic and something deeper and dark as a undercurrent. Each film he makes is a journey into the mind of a master storyteller. Let the magic begin. It's a dark and stormy night out. Let the magic begin.
A interesting side note here. Someone over at NPR wrote a interesting piece about about how his autistic daughter related to the main charater in "Ponyo".