The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 139 – Ponyo

Ponyo 1

Once more we look at Studio Ghibli’s movies which are being screened on Film4, and a very special one for this column, as this is the last of Hayao Miyazaki’s feature films to be mentioned here.

Children’s fantasy Ponyo, originally released in English as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, was released in 2008, and is arguably the most child friendly of all the movies made by the studio often considered to be Japan’s Disney. This is mainly because this movie has one of the youngest leads, with a boy aged five. The main character however is a member of an entirely different species.

The film follows a magical female goldfish named Brunhilde, who lives with Fujimoto, her father who was a human, but then he turned back on humanity and now lives underwater. One day Brunhilde sneaks away and travels to the surface of the ocean, but she gets trapped in a bottle during the journey. She is found by a boy named Sosuke, who lives in a house on the edge of a cliff. Sosuke smashes the bottle with a rock but cuts himself doing so. However, Brunhilde likes his bleeding wound better. Sosuke gives Brunhilde the name “Ponyo”, puts her in a bucket of water and takes her to school, but while playing near the coast with her Fujimoto manages to get her back as he is worried about what a human would do to her.

Back underwater, Fujimoto is horrified by the fact that Ponyo has tasted human blood, because it allows her to slowly transform into a human. When Fujimoto is not looking, Ponyo escapes once again, transforms herself fully into a human, and rushes back to the surface to find Sosuke. She does so, but she releases so much magic that Ponyo creates a tsunami and caused a flood. Fujimoto notices that the moon appears to be much closer to Earth, and worries that the magic Ponyo has released might end up destroying the world. The following day, Ponyo and Sosuke see that the water has risen to such a level that the cliff is now an island. How Ponyo and Sosuke can cope is unknown.

Ponyo is one of the most charming Studio Ghibli films, primarily due to the youth of the characters. It is the film that most wants to take you back to your childhood. Ponyo herself is one of the warmest and friendly characters in the Ghibli canon, with her magical innocence. Perhaps it is for this reason that Hayao Miyazaki wanted to make a sequel, but he was later convinced by the film’s producer Toshio Suzuki not to do so, and instead they made The Wind Rises (No. 73).

One odd thing about the film however is the credits. Miyazaki decided to post all the names, around 400 people, in a period of just 110 seconds, which was the length of the first verse of the movie’s theme song. The film just listed the names, not the jobs of each person, and hoped this would be a statement of equality, showing that everyone who made the film was equal, from the actors and investors, right down to the cats in the studio. However, according to The Anime Encyclopedia, what it actually did was associated nobody with the film rather than anybody, so the only name anyone considers with it is Miyazaki himself.

Ponyo is a film that is best watched with all the family, as it is a film that everyone can enjoy and be swept up with the magic. Also, it is grand for me personally that I have finally been able to cover all the feature movies directed by one of anime’s most famous names, although there were other films which he also wrote rather than directed, some short films and other projects he did too. However, it is his own films that he directed himself for which he will be remembered. From his debut with The Castle of Cagliostro starring one of anime’s most famous creations Lupin III (No. 90), and moving on to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (No. 121), My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), Kiki’s Delivery Service (No. 122), Porco Rosso (No. 137), Princess Mononoke (No. 58), Spirited Away (No. 42), Howl’s Moving Castle (No. 138), Ponyo and The Wind Rises, Miyazaki has been able to move anime into the mainstream, giving us in Britain evidence that anime can be a truly glorious medium that can connect with anyone.

Ponyo is released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Studio Canal. The film is to be screened on Film4 at 11.00am on Wednesday 30th December.