Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thoughts on "Ponyo"

On Sunday, Tim, Liz, my husband, and I went to see Ponyo. We all enjoyed the film and it definitely gets my recommendation. I probably won't do a full-flown review until I have a DVD copy I can watch and rewatch at my leisure. In the meantime, here are some of my impressions of the film:

- As I suspected it would be, Ponyo is less like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke and more along the lines of My Neighbor Totoro. This may seem like an odd thing to say about of film with its fair share of magic and a storyline which include the moon threatening to pull the tides high enough to drown the world, but the scale of the film remains small and the central focus is always the two young children at the heart of the story.

- Though it may not be the constant parade of new wonders that Spirited Away is, Ponyo is still a very beautiful film with a lot to love in the visual department. The kind of attention to detail that fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have come to expect from Miyazaki films are on full display here. The scene where Ponyo is running along on the backs of her sisters, who have been transformed into creatures that seem to be half hish and half water, is unlike anything I have ever seen before and a truly wonderful interpretation of a storm at sea.

- Reportedly playing at roughly 800 theaters in the US and Canada, Ponyo boasts the widest North American release of any Miyazaki film to date. My guess is that this is partly because Ponyo is a very family-friendly film and Disney is hoping that this fact will help it to attract a wider audience. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any theaters near us with subtitled prints of the film, though they were available for past Miyazaki films in theatrical release. I wonder if this is an unfortunate side effect of the movie being marketed more to the general public. Perhaps Disney was concerned about kids ad parents accidentally ending up at a showing of the subtitled print.

- While I have believed for years that the reports of 2D theatrical animation's death have been greatly exaggerated, it is nice to see a film as agressively hand-drawn as Ponyo at a time when computer animated movies seem so dominant. Sometimes I like being able to see evidence of the artist's hand on the screen, like the visible colored pencil lines on the backgrounds in Ponyo. I never felt like it made the environments in the film feel unrealistic; it was more just a different look at the world. As Miyazaki's films so often do, Ponyo showed me wonderfully inviting places and describes them in such visual detail that I feel like I'm there.

- After the movie, Tim was talking about how the film "earned its cuteness." Ponyo is certainly a very cute film, but the cuteness comes out of the characters' invidual personalities and how they react to the situations they're in rather than generic visual and audio cues focus tested to ensure that the largest possible percentage of the audience goes "Awwww!" I'm currently writing a piece on a movie that does not earn its cuteness and the differnce is striking.

- It's pretty clear from the story that Sosuke's family is going through a rough patch. He and his mother Lisa (which does appear to be her original name and not an Anglicanized version of it used only in the dub) divide their time between their cliffside home and the senior center where Lisa works, which is next door to Sosuke's school. Sosuke's father works on a ship which keeps him away from his family for long periods of time. In the course of the film, he calls to say that he won't be coming home when he said he would, which leaves Lisa understandbly upset with him. What I enjoy is that his family issues do not bcome the defining problem in Sosuke's life. Despite being only five, he pretty much rolls with the punches and is even up to the task of comforting his mom when necessary.

- The movie's theme song is exceedinly catchy and the tune will probably end up stuck in your head. The translation of the lyrics into English - like most of the film - seems fairly faithful. However, unless you have your heart set on seeing all of the credits, you may want to exit the theater before the "Radio Disney remix" starts up.

- In general, I'm pleasantly surprised by how mainstream Japanese culture has become in the US over a relatively short period of time. Just a few years back, if an anime was being dubbed and was aimed at children, "Sosuke" would be changed to "Steve," rice balls would be indetified as doughnuts, kanji or any other Japanese writing would be replaced with English, and so on and so forth. Now importers of anime can reasonably expect audeinces of all ages to accept of Japanese names, Japanses writing, Japanese food, and Japanese culture in general without immadiately becoming confuse. Some writing still requires translation and certain cultural norms may require explanation, but there isn't the same need to localize absolutely everything anymore.

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