Anime Review: Ponyo on the Cliff (2008)

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One year after its initial Japanese opening in 2008, I've finally managed to watch Ponyo, on DVD.

I absolutely love this movie. The wait was worth it.

Miyazaki's latest animation is certainly a depart from his more serious films over the decade — Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Ponyo is clearly targeted for younger viewers.

The story is about Ponyo, a little goldfish, who's rescued by Sosuke after being trapped in a discarded bottle in the sea. It happens that she's the daughter of a wizard who eventually retrieves her back from Sosuke. Having smitten by Sosuke, Ponyo decides to escape and become a human. While doing so, she spills over some of her father's magic potion and creates a storm. That's when the fun starts happening.

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Meanwhile, the sky starts pouring rain and Lisa, Sosuke's mom, is driving her mini car back to her lighthouse amidst the storm, on a slippery road by the cliff, skidding at every turn, with the angry sea rising behind rapidly. Behind her car, Ponyo has spotted Sosuke in the car. With a wide smile on her face, she summons giant waves with her powers and chases him relentlessly, hopping from waves to waves. This is probably my favourite car chase sequence of all movies, including live action ones. You feel like the waves are going to engulf the car at any moment, yet you also know that's not going to happen. Ponyo catches up finally and gives Sosuke a big hug.

I'll stop here to avoid spoiling the story. Let's just say the rest of the story is more on the interactions between Sosuke and Ponyo.

From an animation point of view, Ponyo really brings out the essence of animation — stylization and exaggeration. The rendering of the waves is clearly influence by the famous Japanese woodblock print called The Great Wave off Kanagawa. As each wave breaks and turns into a carp, you can feel the energy, power and the volume of the water. It's some pretty amazing animation, totally taking advantage of the medium.

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Miyazaki also captured the behaviour of kids perfectly. When Ponyo in the lighthouse, she runs around and jumps onto the sofa two times, typically of kids who like to do things repetitively. I was smiling for good half of the movie at the little nuances that my cheeks hurt.

At the end of the movie, I came to a sudden realisation — I'm not sure if Spirited Away is my favourite Miyazaki movie anymore.

It seems many movie goers have wildly different expectations of a Miyazaki film. It's rated 3.5-stars over 200 votes on Amazon Japan. It's perfectly understandable for Japanese since they like their plots a little more convoluted. One of my friends thought it was "so-so", another thought it was brilliant.

I thought it was brilliant too, and would highly recommend Ponyo to all fans of Miyazaki films, but be warned that it might be too cutesy. It's a breath of fresh air against all the 3D animation out there.

The Blu-ray version is coming out in December 2009 and you can sign up to be notified on Amazon.com. I'm most definitely getting that.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Ponyo and her sisters

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Ponyo and her dad

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I really like the enthusiastic smile she carries throughout. Looks like nothing can dampen her spirits.

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The Japanese interpretation of the sea.

Visit the links below to read more reviews on Amazon. Do note the region code for the disc and your player before buying.

You can find Ponyo on the Cliff (DVD) at:
Amazon.com | Amazon.co.jp | CDJapan.co.jp (Region 2) | Yes Asia USA

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