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Ponyo Talkback

Hayao Miyazaki’s latest feature opens today in the United States. I reviewed it here last month. Now its your turn to tell us what you think. Only readers who’ve seen the film can post in our comments section below.

  • I haven’t had time to blog about it, but I absolutely love it. Sure it’s strange and different, but I see that as a plus. At it’s core, it’s quite innocent and sweet.

    I like the artistic choices made for the film, such as the backgrounds thatpreserve the look and feel of the conceptual art Miyazaki usually produces for his films. I liked how sometimes a simple action used the visual vocabulary more often reserved for static images, such as splashing water represented by simple lines being animated around the pail, and that sort of thing.

    Also a general bugaboo: while there are some declarations of love that I usually find off-putting in these types of movies, it didn’t really bother me here. As I said even the expressions of love are rather innocent and did not make me think of obsessive love. While many animated all ages’ films with an primary female character involve her secretly transforming herself to please her man, they kept the fairy-tale quality but ditched this idea, even though Ponyo takes on more than one form during the film.

    And to quote my companion for the film: “That was cuter than Totoro. How is that possible?!”

  • Seth

    I happened to see it a couple weeks back at the UC Berkeley screening. It was absolutely wonderful, and everyone in the theater loved it. It got a lot of laughs, which is odd for a traditional animated movie (and anime at that). But it is more of a kids flick, in the same vein of My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. If you have kids, I really would encourage you to take them to see this. I don’t think they would be disappointed. And I have to hand it to Disney. Not only are the voices for Ponyo and Sosuke spot on, but Ive actually been seeing commercials for this one! Wouldn’t it be nice if for once a Ghibli/Miyazaki flick actually did well here in the states?

  • Erik

    I really liked the movie. Very nicely animated, especially the waves of the sea. The story is unclear, but didn’t stop me from having a great time. For children, but not childish.

  • Scott Roberts

    It’s a wild and insane story, and Miyazaki doesn’t bother explaining much of why anything’s happening (or something’s been lost in translation). But that hardly matters, since the experience is far greater than the plot.

    What stood out to me the most was the representation of water. Unlike most animations that treat liquid as nothing but a surface, in Ponyo it’s a material that can be stylized in a myriad of ways. It turns into giant fishes, blobby monsters (with amazing voice work), Hiroshige-style abstracted waves, and something as simple and miraculous as a bucket overflowing–where it’s shown to act more like syrup.

    I especially loved it when the graphic style became more simplified and abstracted. This is a beautiful film, not at the level of the masterpieces Mononoke and Spirited Away, but full of inspirational material for future generations.

    We’re all damned lucky to be living in the greatest era in the history of animation.

  • hellohue

    Haven’t seen the dub, but it remains one of my favourite animated films ever, for it’s purity and innocence. The score adds wonderfully to the magic, and the unexpectedly realistic characters (especially Lisa).

    The animation is, without saying, is of the highest quality, and refreshingly inventive. For anyone interested, I can link to a list of the key animator’s respective scenes (the only such resource available in English).

    I have no idea about how the film’s being received in America by the general public, but I really hope the publicity pays off and people (especially kids) go and see it. The fact that at 68 Miyazaki keeps pushing himself and the medium he is absolutely devoted to is beyond inspiration.

  • @hellohue I would love to have your list of key animators in Ponyo. If you can post the link here or send it to me at my blog, that would be excellent.

    As for me, I’ll be watching Ponyo twice tomorrow at two different venues. I’ll be writing my reports throughout this weekend. Here’s hoping everyone goes to see the movie!

  • I thought it was wonderful in all respects. I smiled like it was christmas the whole way through. BTW, Miyazaki earns extra props on this one for having the best end credit sequence of all time, correct me if i’m wrong but I believe it only say “we made this movie” and then runs a list of everyones names. No B.S. above the line, people ranking. very refreshing to see someone show respect to the crew as a whole like that. :)

  • Victoria

    I generally liked the film, the characters were dimensional and interesting, the animation was brilliant, but I felt sort of unfulfilled at the end. The story wasn’t his strongest, but it was still enjoyable.

  • Tom Heres

    In Seattle we have an excellent video store that rents imported videos, so I watched Ponyo with subtitles last week. Really excellent. I want to see it again in its dubbed glory on the big screen. Really a beautiful movie.

  • I saw it last weekend at the NYICFF, they had a pre screening. I was told by many that it wasn’t all that good. While its definitely not my favorite I was pleasantly surprised. The story was very clear and really tight, there are some instances where the dialogue may not make sense to some viewers, though its interesting none-the-less.

    I was always a fan of how Studio Ghibli incorporated CGI into their films while this film abandons it I really felt that looked amazing that so much was just hand drawn. The water is especially stunning.

  • Russell H

    I watched PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA last night (on a Region 2 DVD, Japanese
    with English subtitles).

    What an utterly charming and enchanting film. There’s
    a real sense of joyfulness and exuberance about it; as the story unfolds and
    grows more fantastical and surreal, it’s like the breathless narrative of an
    imaginative child, piling wonder upon wonder without regard for grownup strictures
    about “logic” or “backstory.” Just sit back and let it wash over you (both literally and figuratively.

  • William Skaleski

    Adorable and with a wonderful color palette.

  • I saw it this afternoon.

    As much as I’d rather be gushing over what a masterpiece Ponyo is I have to admit that it really did not grab me the way some of Miyazaki’s other movies have. It’s “cute” and all … and I admire the craftsmanship in the drawing (though I will never get used to seeing stuff animated on 3’s and 4’s on a big screen ). Beautiful color palette. I should just be satisfied to see some honest-to-goodness hand drawn animation in the theater again, right ? But … just not that compelling to me. I wanted to support the film by seeing it in the theater on opening day , but I came away thinking it’s a minor work by a major director. It was just ok. That’s all. (“Heretic”: that’s me. You can all start casting stones now)

    The English language dub didn’t work for me. I will certainly get Ponyo on DVD so I can see the film again in the original Japanese language. Maybe I will warm up to it more when I see it in Japanese. I always think the original language works best for the acting and pacing (subtitles don’t bother me) .

    The reworking of the Ponyo theme song over the end credits , sung by Noah Cyrus and the Jonas Bro. was a major lapse in taste. YUCK. That song was so annoying I did something I rarely do (especially for an animated film) : I fled the theater without sitting through all the end credits. I’ll catch up when I get the DVD.

  • Garwik

    Just saw it this afternoon. Amazing! Cute without being trite, simple without being one dimensional, and breathtaking without being overbearing. Joe Hisaishi’s score is (as always) bloody brilliant.

    The best part by far though was at the beginning of the film when the Ghibli logo appeared on screen a little 4 year old girl in the theater squealed “TOTORO! TOTORO!”

  • Vastarien

    I saw the original Japanese version, and I loved it!
    I agree that the story itself could have been a bit tighter, but it didn’t really matter in the end. The pure luminous joy and exuberance of this child’s dream swept me up right until the end. I was actually in tears when Ponyo flew to the surface and ran like hell in the middle of the storm.
    Her simple happiness just made it all worth it. I love the Sea Mother, too. So classic, so beautiful, so utterly magnificent! My favorite Miazaki film is still tied between Castle in the Sky and Spirted Away, but this one has a very bright place of honor on my shelf. There is so much love invested in all of his work, it just shines through every frame, and I can only be humbled in the face of such a gift.
    Even if it’s not his best work, it still deserves a chance to be seen, dubbed or not. Go if you can, you won’t be sorry.

  • CaptainPazu

    I saw Ponyo a while back and found it very disappointing, I was really hoping to love it but I found it lacking in any emotional drive whatsoever and just did not engage me at all.

    Miyazaki clearly manages to juggle sumptuous visuals and delightfully observed animation with a strong, yet simple story in “My Neighbor Totoro” but Ponyo seems to meander wilfully without any real focus or drive to it. I was sad to see “Howl’s Moving Castle” suffered this to some degree, particularly towards the end, but Ponyo even more so. Miyazaki has obviously set films in production without having the full film sorted out (eg “Porco Rosso”) and riffed story elements until they settle as he feels they should successfully in the past but “Ponyo” doesn’t compel or charm at all mainly because the relationships are fuzzy and their objectives not clear/not that interesting in the context of the story.

    Some of the settings are pleasant, such as the town and the old people’s home, Fujimoto is an interesting character but just doesn’t *do* very much. His first few scenes underwater and in front of the house promise much more than he finally delivers and the movie ties up with even more of a deus ex machina than “Howl’s Moving Castle” did, which is saying something.

    That’s almost the problem with the film for me, stuff just happens and you don’t really care. I’m certainly not suggesting that the only way to make animated narrative fiction is to the North American Disney model, Ghibli themselves have produced numerous very successful and touching films such as “Whisper of the Heart” or “Only Yesterday” that work brilliantly without the guy-gets-girl/guy-loses-girl etc play-it-by-numbers plots but at the end of the day it should actually work for the audience and it didn’t work for me.

    Its really worrying that Disney are opening in the US wider than ever before with “Ponyo” as I’m sure it will not grab the kind of financial return that “Kiki’s Delivery Service” or “Totoro” would have done, had they received the same treatment. And that will either be interpreted as (i) General audiences don’t like anime or (ii) 2D animation doesn’t make money. Neither of which is true, of course, but they are conclusions I can see being drawn by studios in the wake of a bad opening for the film…

  • Tom D.

    it was better than over 90% of the stuff they flash onto movie screens these days.

    but i wasn’t thrilled with the simple kiddie style designs, and thought there were serious story problems.

  • TStevens

    I’d say nearly all of the above comments are valid: the story was interesting, but meandered: the designs were simple but cute: animation on 3s and 4s isn’t always ideal but that is how they do it in Japan (there was actually a lot of character stuff on 1s in this one).

    Overall, the kids in the theater seemed to really get a kick out of it. I dug it but a lot of that has to do with knowing what to expect from Miyazaki as a director. If you accept the fact that nearly all of his films tend to flow with uneven story arcs you tend to have a more enjoyable time watching them.

  • ryan

    The main complaint that I hear about this movie is that it’s too childish. For Miyazaki this is purposeful. He utilizes the worldview of young children to provide the audience with a sense of magic and wonder. This movie is about 5 year olds and presents the audience with the sense of adventure and innocense that exists in every human at that age. It also respects the two 5 year olds as people who can handle the world through strong optimism and love. This isn’t just a good Miyazaki film, it’s a great achievement!

  • Chris Sobieniak

    I didn’t think there were any story problems in this film, as I felt the pacing and characters helped to even it out (whatever flaws there may be). The film is really about being that age when the world seems big and mysterious to you, and you still believed in certain things that may be illogical to an adult, but it’s about discovery and learning as you go on. The main kid in this film, Sosuke, is no different from any 5 year old I know who might go explore the waters and find those fascinating things that they can relate to. I also like the mother in the film (Lisa) who doesn’t go overboard with her son’s willingness to wait for Ponyo to come back after losing him early in the film, and her later acceptance of the situation as the film progresses. Ponyo herself is also quite an interesting character who develops despite shifting between a fish and a human in her intent of being with Sosuke. In the end, Sosuke learns quote a bit about responsibility, now that he has sister to take care of (sad to spoil that part of the film here).

    If there’s one thing I can say I thought too much about the film, was it’s ending, as it’s rather common in Miyazaki’s films that he often leaves you with a sense you wanted a little more closure than you get, but then I have to wonder if that’s all it should be? This is where I often feel I don’t need to know more than there is to see, though I guess if it had worked as well, an end credit sequence like My Neighbor Totoro’s would be OK as well, but the end credits are fine here anyway (and the remix tune wasn’t too bad, but it would’ve been nice if they left it well enough alone).

  • “Ponyo” is unlike the animated movies that come out of Hollywood. It’s traditional cel animation, full of elaborate colors and wonderfully imaginative sequences. No 3-D. No CGI. Yet it’s as vibrant as any film I’ve seen this year.

    The voice cast is top-notch, led by Tina Fey and Liam Neeson. Miley’s Cyrus’s younger sister Noah does the voice of Ponyo and the youngest Jonas Brother, Frankie, plays Sosuke.

    “Ponyo” is rated G. It’s good for everybody, but parents need to understand that this is not a Disney or DreamWorks creation. The Japanese style may surprise or confuse some kids at first, but don’t let that stop you from taking them to “Ponyo”, as both they, and you, will enjoy it.

    On The Official Kid Critic Report Card, “Ponyo” get a solid B. If you’re looking for a sweet, cleaver and fun film for the kids as the summer winds down this is it.

    I could definitely see “Ponyo” getting an Oscar nomination, but the competition for Best Animated Film this year will be very stiff. It’s about time the Academy increase the number of nominations in the category from three to five.

  • Beautiful to look at. But unless you love animation
    or are below 8 years old You will be bored.

    Overload of cuteness and pretty colours.
    So bring the kids (or the girlfriend)

  • Dave

    Wow! Just got back from seeing the flick!

    It’s amazing! Great character stuff, beautiful visuals, and a nice story. If you’re into fantastic filmmaking and a good time at the theatre it’s a must see.

    No matter what age you are.

  • I loved it, up to a point. I felt that the ending was rushed and with too easy a resolution. “Now nature is balanced again.” Huh? What happened to “those disgusting humans” defiling the ocean? Why set up all that trash in the water if everything is wonderful now?

    Next: “Are you ready to accept Ponyo as living between two worlds?” Okay, but now she’s a human and she has to give up magic. What does the “two worlds” mean? She’s not going back to the ocean… is she? And what was that about “Sosuke has to prove that his love is true”? When did he ever NOT? So I felt that this was a setup to a conflict that never materialized.

    I don’t want to diminish the wonder of the rest of the movie; indeed, I was literally weeping during the “running on the waves” sequence, it was so thrilling and beautiful. But I didn’t leave the theatre glowing, as I always have with Miyazaki, and I know it’s because the story didn’t conclude strongly enough for me.

    And two P.S.’s about the voices. I liked Tina Fey’s work in this, but I’ve gotta wonder if she was originally thought of for the role because she resembles Lisa. And secondly, why in the world hire Matt Damon if that’s all you’re going to have him do? Oh, wait, I forgot — he can be in the Electronic Press Kits to say “It’s such an honor to be in a Miyazaki film…”

  • Okay, so I’ve just read some other reviews, and I guess Ponyo’s accidental release of the wizard’s elixirs that caused the tsunami is what presumably “cleaned” the oceans and “put the world in balance.” But if that’s the case, haven’t we taken the responsibility completely away from the humans and given it to a “Poseidon ex machina” to solve everything?

    If this was anybody else’s work, I’d probably be saying “Stop thinking so much, it’s just a children’s film.” But it’s not, and I am.

  • Saw it earlier today. The theater was almost full which was surprising because I didn’t think non-animation geeks here would bother seeing a Miyazaki film. Everyone seemed to like it. One family got up and left halfway through but I couldn’t tell that it was because they didn’t like the film. My interpretation of the reaction of the little kids I could hear in the audience was that they just intuitively “got it.”

  • Chris Sobieniak

    David D. does bring up some questions that may come to our minds by the movie’s end. It seemed like at the end, the way I see it, the sea was given a clean slate, and Ponyo was now permanently a human thanks to Sosuke’s efforts. At least Ponyo’s mother didn’t have any qualms about her daughter taking on a role the father felt disgusted over. In the end, the characters just learn to accept those wishes and what they imply and live with it.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say Miyazaki has lost his touch when it comes to how the movie ends, it’s more of leaving out certain details that can be a little nerving for some of us who might actually care to understand the movie a little more than most.

  • I started writing my thoughts on Ponyo, until they grew so large I published them as a 500-page book on my blog. I’m kidding. It’s only 400 pages. The rest are pictures.

    Anyway, here’s the link for your enjoyment: 20 Observations About Ponyo:


  • This is a masterful film from probably the only master alive. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year and look forward to going again. Leave your cynicism behind and just allow it to wash over you. There is no way we can cross the cultural barrier to understand it all, but we can marvel in something this great. Despite Tina Fey’s voiceover.

  • Dan Acton

    I really enjoyed Ponyo, and happened to go to a party after seeing it where there were quite a few Japanese professionals from the anime and film world, who had some interesting things to say about it: Evidently, the first 12 seconds of the film (with all the amazing undersea creatures) took about 4 months to create. Miyazaki chose to hand draw everything after dabbling with computer animation in his last few films in small part to leave a record of how to tackle two of the most difficult things to animate: large bodies of water and birds in flight. The unusual end credits were attributed to Miyazaki’s Communist political views. Most surprisingly, several people agreed that they preferred the somewhat simplified English dub to the original Japanese, since they felt that the speech in the original was sometimes out-of-date and incongruous.

  • I should probably say, in all fairness, that Tina Fey was probably the one thing that kept us from Vice President Sarah Palin. For that alone, I’m willing to look the other way. But I think you will greatly prefer the original Japanese actress as the mother, Lisa. She captures the fiery attitude and terse frustration of Miyazaki’s Heroine perfectly. She’s a women forced so sacrifice her ambitions to raise her child, and she is not happy.

    Ponyo makes me happy to go to the movies. It’s a celebration of the very idea of the movies, of walking into a dark room and staring at an enormous screen and being swept away by ideas great and small. The idea of going to the theater is becoming extinct, as is hand-crafted animation. We won’t likely see another Hayao Miyazaki ever again.

  • I had mixed feelings about Tina Fey’s performance. Some lines, especially near the beginning, did seem forced. But her reaction when faced with (a) irrefutable evidence that the little girl in front of her is the goldfish her son had the previous day, but also (b) an emergency to deal with, so that she has no time to fly off the handle, was delightful.

  • I think this is the whole problem with celebrity voices. If we didn’t know it was Tina Fey, we probably wouldn’t be arguing about it. There was a trailer for “Planet 51” showing with “Ponyo,” and the narrator says — and this is his only line at this point — “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.” I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that NO ONE is going to see this movie because “The Rock” is voicing the lead character. Or ANY billing of a recognizable actor. I sincerely believe that if there was a “T. Fey” mixed within the whole “We Made This Movie” end credits, rather than as part of the selling of the film, the performance wouldn’t be so trashed here.

  • I watched it earlier tonight, and I have to say, that I was suprised to learn that unlike Howl’s Moving Castle, three theaters are showing it in my area, and I was surprised to see 22 people total in the theater.

    Personally, regarding Tina Fey, it never even registered that it was her. Truth be told, I kept thinking, “Is that really Tina Fey? Why doesn’t it sound like her?”

    As for the film itself, I go into deeper detail on my blog, but I will say that I was surprised to see a film that got the child-viewpoint of the world RIGHT. I loved how there was such an illogical fairy tale logic to it, how the surreal aspects reminded me of the cartoons I grew up with in Europe.

    But above all, the best part is the fact that the animation is just so gorgeous, and that despite being based on the same story, it was still deeper in so many ways than Disney’s Little Mermaid film, even despite its child-like fairy tale nature.

  • Lucy

    Saw this opening day, SO glad that it wasn’t a crowd of parents who had brought their infants with the idea that the movie would play babysitter. Happy that it was a lot of people around my age…

    Anyway, I found the animation refreshing–It wasn’t a clone of Howl or Spirited Away’s animation, and had a feel of it being seen through a child’s eye.

    The story, like a lot of people have said, could have been tigther. I even got to thinking as I walked out (having fled the horrendous Jonas-Cyrus remix) that perhaps it would have made for a better story had it been told about the character of Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto. We learn a few interesting things about the guy, but none of them are really gone into–He was a human who now hates humans, and now he works to prevent the balance of nature? How’d he go from point “A” to “B”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Ponyo and Sosuke, thought those were some of the most realistic interpretations of children I’ve seen on the screen in some time, but… That character left a lot of unawswered questions for me.

    Overall, very good film :) Something to break out for kids who you want to introduce good animation to effectively.

  • Kelly Tindall

    Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year. I agree that the climax is a little weak but there hasn’t been a sequence in any film I’ve seen in 2009 that rivals the incredibly artistic and technical triumph of the pre-credits sequence of PONYO alone. The first couple of minutes.

    And then there’s that amazing wave sequence!

    Any complaints I could possibly have disappear into inconsequence after a sequence like that one.

  • Chris

    So glad i got to see this film in the theaters with a large and younger audience. The kids were all right there with the story and there wasn’t any protests about being boring or long or confusing. I can’t wait to take my kids. Yes I went sans-kids and I still loved it. I got into Myazaki late but they are definitely on my to-get list.

    The Wave Sequence! The fish sisters! The ocean mother! The driving! The background plates looked like children’s coloring books and the waves were simplistic gestures that captured a child’s impression of the sea. Brilliant.

    I was slightly surprised at the abrupt ending. Dad comes home, Ponyo jumps out of the bucket, kisses Sosuke and bursts forth fully formed – Roll Credits. ?

    The “love” aspect concerned me at first but I chalked it up to brother/sister love so Sosuke has someone to take care of. Having very young children myself, I can see this playing out like the older sibling that wants to take care of the baby. Whether Ponyo is magical anymore or not is irrelevant – children make their own.

  • Anna

    I was in love with the cuteness (even if halfway thru my teeth started rotting on the sugarness), and even tho I’m not 8 [not for a looooong time] – it amused & entertained me greatly!

    The whole “omg, she’s a red-head fish princess who’ll turn into foam if he turns her down” made me laugh something awful tho.

  • It was a real joy to sit in a theater and watch Ponyo with a group of very young kids. They ooh’d and aah’d from start to finish, and were completely captivated, every last one. The grownups may not be Ghibli Freaks, but these kids sure are. They’re hooked for life.

    I’ve found that Ponyo is even better on the second viewing. It takes several viewings to absorb it all, and come to grips with the film’s pacing and structure.

    I think the key to Miyazaki’s storytelling style lies in Heidi. That’s where he really matured and came of age as an artist and animator. His films follow a similar episodic structure, less concerned with getting to the finish line (a Western concept) than the journey and the various life lessons he wishes to impart. The endings are almost always sudden and abrupt. Miyazaki ends his movies the way John Lennon ended side one of Abbey Road.

  • While there are some great visuals, particularly the ocean scenes, I didn’t enjoy the dated cute aspects of the film. I also think some of the story problems were due to faulty translation. For example, the ‘test’ where the boy must prove his love to Ponyo never really materializes and is quickly forgotten about in the end. Miyazaki’s color palette was all over the place and the art direction was a hodgepodge of styles. The environmentalist commentary was also too overt.

    That said, the scenes between the kids are really carefully observed and the attention to detail is exquisite.

    ‘Princess Mononoke’ remains his best movie for me because it gives an adult gravitas to his reoccurring themes of humans as stewards of the earth and the innocence of children.

  • Archagon

    Much like Spirited Away, I felt the plot was strangely compressed and somewhat poorly resolved. Why does the end sequence go by so fast? Why are some details emphasized when they have no obvious interpretive meaning?

    On the other hand, the animation was simply MIND-BLOWING.

  • gene schiller

    Is this really for kids ages 4-9 as Jerry said? Well, “Jerry’s kids” must be pretty special, because, personally….I didn’t get it. There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t understand, despite the fact that most of it was in perfectly intelligible english. (And why do all the “gold” fish look like little girls in pink nightgowns? Inquiring minds must know!) But, frame for frame, it’s a beauty…probably Miyazaki’s masterwork. The wind blows, the waters churn – everything moves with such perfect rhythm, I soon forgot I was watching a movie, let alone an animated film. That’s magic.

  • I would have to echo David Nethery’s comments above. I was really looking forward to this film, especially after reading Michael Sporn’s review. I love the backgrounds, and the way Miyazaki handled the water. But it definitelely did not suck me in like his other films, so may of his other films, have. There were parts where my eyes were glued to the screen, and I thought I was truly witnessing something amazing, but there were also times I felt it felt long. Is it just me or do the character yell too much? Highly imaginative, beautifully rendered, and fantastic it was. His best work it was not.

  • David

    i loved the film. My only problem was the ending. There was no dramatic tension. The mermaid thing just asked the boy, “do you love her?” And he says, “Yes.” THE END. I mean, i was expecting the boy to go through some hardship or test or something… all he did was say “i love ponyo.”

    Can anyone help me understand if I’m missing something?