Studio Ghibli

film 7 of 9

Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

Film Review by Dean Duncan Apr 16, 2015

Listen to that title! Like Haiku—beautiful! That storm sequence—you’ll know the one I mean when you see it—is film historically, all-time good, both in concept and execution. (Chicken feet?! Always some deep eccentricity with this guy!) It’s a veritable vision, a child moving with power and majesty on the waters! For me at least, Ponyo itself is no classic—what exactly is going on at the end?—but this one section is as good, as emblematic as anything Miyazaki has done. Which means, I guess, that it’s as good as anything that’s ever been done, ever.

Does that practically Blake-ean vision contain the message of this particular film? Of Miyazaki’s films, entire? Regardless of his value system (Shinto devoté with Christian sympathies?), the child seems to stand at both centre and apex of his world. How lovely for all of his devoted young viewers; he’s Fred Rogers! That message works, and he means it, in situations both fantastical and domestic-documentary.

Ponyo’s tadpole flirtation with Sosuke is sweet and funny; her ardent embrace when she finally reaches him accomplishes an intensity that is positively Borzage-ian. Some of the mythology in this film is elusive, at least for this Westerner. But the Little Mermaid echoes are as clear as a bell, and as good for you. Miyazaki indulges in none of Hans Andersen’s melancholy and self-pity here. A kid-centred ouevre? Not quite, or not exactly. Maybe it’s the expanse, the comprehensiveness of his view that makes him so stratospherically great. He tells his viewers that it is right and proper and joyful to grow up and move on! And there’s a little more to it. Though it sounds indelicate to say so, it’s clearly and elegantly present in Ponyo; our ultimate goal, our ultimate joy is a healthy, rounded, sexual/emotional/spiritual relationship. Not appropriate for children? Speak for yourselves! Wondrous, wholesome sentiments…