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August 10, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

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When I was 13 I saw my first Studio Ghibli film—My Neighbour Totoro. My 13-year-old self denounced the fact that he had to “read” the film, the fact that “nothing happened” and, most egregiously, that the film was “kiddy”. Thankfully, I’ve grown up since then and discovered a lot about film, and after watching Spirited Away earlier this year and loving it, I decided to catch Ponyo at the Film Festival.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first—it’s absolutely beautiful. Hayao Miyazaki, that venerable master of Japanese anime, has crafted a film more in line with the aforementioned “kiddy” Totoro than his other works, and the animation is deceptively simplistic. The opening sequence, in which Miyazaki takes us on a tour of his ocean, kicks off his re-imagination of The Little Mermaid in breathtaking style, the level of detail and the sheer vibrancy of the presentation nothing short of spectacular. As the film continues, this simple-but-really-really-not style continues to wow in no small measure, with several sequences that I cannot reveal for fear of spoiling the film, being particularly astounding pieces of animation. Miyazaki hasn’t just made a film—he’s made a moving artwork, aesthetically brilliant and vibrant.

The film’s story itself also has a lot to recommend. As mentioned, Ponyo adapts The Little Mermaid in an odd, but completely successful way—Ponyo is a goldfish trying to escape from her overprotective father; she does so, and meets young boy Sasuke while free, taking an immediate shine to him. If you know The Little Mermaid, you should have a loose idea of how events transpire, but despite this, Miyazaki makes Ponyo his own—there’s no comparing the two works, because at the end of the day, Ponyo is a much more wonderful, joyful beast.

That’s not to say Ponyo is by any means flawless; the supporting characters, particularly Ponyo’s mother and Sasuke’s father, could stand to be better developed, and the ending is a remarkably disappointing anticlimax after everything the film’s built it up to be, but it is one of the sweetest, funniest, most remarkably heartwarming films of this year, maybe even this decade. And while it may not necessarily inspire you to go rummaging at your local video store for every Ghibli you can find, it is a great film nonetheless.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Jean-Marc Pannetier

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