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Ponyo: Review

The call to stop climate change has lost steam in recent years. After Al Gore’s successful documentary, the terror of ‘6 Degrees’ and the forgettable ‘Day After Tomorrow’, our attentions have turned to more immediate, and frankly more affecting matters of the credit crunch and worldwide conflicts. That said director’s Hayao Miyazaki’s fascination of Man’s relationship with the environment has constantly been a source of inspiration for the master of Anime.

2008’s Ponyo may at first glance appear like a rejuvenated Little Mermaid: an independent fish escapes the sea and turns human, finding love in the process. But like the rest of Miyazaki’s filmography, behind the simplest story there is an ocean of humanity and heartfelt messages.

When protagonist fish girl, Ponyo, escapes the sea and comes into contact with school boy Sosuke, she leaves behind a distraught father (and also wizard of the sea) Fujimoto. Ponyo’s desire for independence from an over protective father leads her to the surface where curious Sosuke finds her trapped in a jar. He is her saviour: he cares for her, he names her, he feeds her. They are drawn together by a mutual care for one another. Through some powerful magic Ponyo turns from fish to human and is accepted into Sosuke’s home with outstretched arms. She brings a welcome warmth to a family suffering anxiety for a father (and husband) who risks his life fishing the seas. Ponyo’s introduction to human life is charming, reminding us of the beautiful nuisances of life that we all take for granted.

However Fujimoto’s love for his daughter is equally powerful as the magic that transformed her, and results in the flooding of Sosuke’s hometown as he seeks to claim her back. As the ocean invades, and makes a new home in the roads and buildings, the imagination of Miyazaki is able to swim free. Just as Arrietty’s family create a home out of hooks and corks in The Secret World of Arrietty, Miyazaki explores how  fish would navigate the roads and illustrates how a child’s toy (given the right scenario and a bit of magic) is a lifesaving tool. It appears that the rise in sea levels isn’t all that bad, and rather than the dystopia of The Road, Sosuke and Ponyo are greeted by a community pulling together in their altered environment.

But it’s not all cute details. For instance a moment between Ponyo and a new born baby is presented in a disturbing fashion. It’s never clear what the conflict Ponyo has with the baby. Is it jealousy? Curiosity? Fear? Regardless of the interpretation, it’s an unsettling moment that hints that this fish girl may not be all cute and lovable, as she stares into the new-born’s eyes for a moment too long.

At the centre of this story human sacrifice and love is explored beautifully, from a younger, more innocent and simpler perspective than Howl’s Moving Castle. From first contact, to love, to a journey to restore the balance of nature, we are charmed by innocence. It’s a story that is easy to follow, with the odd twist along the way. However, by the end it doesn’t deliver the emotional punch of Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away, and leaves the audience with a pop song as the credits role, rather than questions about humanity’s core values. Just like climate change, the immediacy of war and crisis hits harder than the slow burning ice-caps.

Never the less, it’s a charming and imaginative exploration of youth. And although it may not be Miyazaki at his prime, even his second best is stand out.

8/10

For more on all things Anime stay tuned to Koko Gamer. For more on Ponyo check out the trailer below.

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