It’s no secret that I’m a big, giddy fan of Studio Ghibli. I’ve even been to the Ghibli museum in Japan, where I squeaked over the giant Laputa robot, understood nothing of the short film that was entirely in Japanese, and was proclaimed too big to jump all over the giant My Neighbour Totoro catbus. So I was a big arm-flap of excitement over the release of Ponyo.
From what I can gather plot-wise, Ponyo is the name of a “goldfish” that five-year-old Sosuke discovers washed up on the beach near his clifftop home. In taking care of her, he unleashes the anger of Ponyo’s father, a human who lives under the sea after giving up on humanity, continuing his existence in a variety of air-bubble type houses and vehicles. Sosuke and Ponyo become very attached to each other, and when Ponyo’s father retrieves her, breaking Sosuke’s heart, Ponyo decides she’s sick of being a fish with a semi-human face (which only one person seems to actually notice) and become a human, aided by the magic her father is storing away to save the ocean. Her attempts to do so unwittingly create utter chaos, because, as we all know, Magic Can Occasionally Be a Bad Idea. Can Ponyo and Sosuke’s friendship fix this problem?
It’s gorgeous. It really is. The colours are beautiful, the moments of happy family familiarity are touching, and unsurprisingly the backgrounds and action scenes are absolutely divine. Like a few of the other Ghibli movies, it doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense (as one of our fellow watchers said, “It’s like there was about ten minutes in the middle that they just forgot to put in”) and there’s a few parenting choices that make you want to move to the back of the cinema and discreetly dial Child Protection Services. But to counter that last point, it’s always lovely in a way to see a world in which children are much wiser and braver than we give them credit for, and the adults are happy to believe in them. Still, I doubt I’d leave my five-year-old alone in a cliff house during a storm and while a crazy old man is possibly out to find him. But then, I’ve always been the kind of person who worries over silly little things like that.
I can’t say there’s much in the way of plot, and it possibly has the least amount of conflict that I have ever witnessed in a movie. But it’s a kid’s movie, and a sweet one at that. Everyone is endearing, even the bad guys, there’s a whole bunch of smooching and magic, and frankly you’re best leaving the logic part of your brain at the door, where it’s already been battered by convincing yourself that six dollars for popcorn is in any way reasonable.
I adored this. I can’t say enough how lovely the whole movie is. It’s no Totoro, but it’s a great antidote to the brilliant but depressing Ghibli movie Grave of the Fireflies, and frankly it’s one of my favourites. Disney may now have their fingers in the Ghibli pie, but clearly they don’t have a lot of pull, otherwise this movie would have had a narrator explaining what the hell was going on with the father and his magic, and a disclaimer at the end about Always Wear Your Seatbelt, Kids. As it is, we’re not always sure of the reasoning behind Ponyo, but I’m more than willing to abandon myself to Ghibli once more.