Directed by: Hayo Miyazaki
Written by: Hayo Miyazaki (screenplay)
Starring: Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, and Liam Neeson
For those who love the art of Japanese anime, Hayo Miyazaki is widely considered the God. The man behind such works as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke delivers his latest, Ponyo, with a wide color palette and unique take on Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Mermaid.”
It starts off underwater. The young fish we will soon know as Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) makes her way to the surface in an elaborate, beautiful opening sequence. When she arrives, she meets Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), a vibrant and happy five year old boy who rescues her from a glass jar. The fish licks the wound, healing it and binding her DNA with that of a human. She begins to take on human characteristics, learning to speak and sprouting limbs. All the while, her father (Liam Neeson) is keen on keeping her the way she is, and takes her back into the underwater realm. She breaks free, and once liberated, unleashes the sea and makes her way back to Sosuke.
The visual splendor of this film is hard to put into words. The water alone, sprouting eyes and turning into fish when there are tidal waves, is such a marvelous creation of vibrant life. Hiyazaki has a keen eye for beauty, and the tapestry he paints on in this film is truly remarkable. The scene where Ponyo, legs newly sprouted, runs across the waves she has created will undoubtedly become this film’s endearing image. It captures the joy and innocence of childhood like no live action film could.
Americans who watch this film may be taken aback by how many stars have signed onto it for the English version. Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Betty White and Matt Damon all have memorable roles in the film, yet they are not its stars. Instead we have Cyrus and Jonas, two younger siblings of greater Disney families. Here they outshine their musical siblings in every way. They bring childish life to their energetic characters.
These familiar names, along with the film’s beautiful visual style, may help introduce many Westerners to Japanese anime. However, the film is not without fault. It does drag on at times, and the celebrity voicework is sometimes distracting. And however beautiful the movie is, it does not detract from the fact that the story sometimes becomes a little dull and unbearable at times. However, it is well worth seeing for the beautiful images alone. Hollywood voice-overs, I’m glad to announce, take the backseat.