Various friends have seen and liked Ponyo lately, but it was barely on my radar.

And I must confess that I've had mixed reactions to Miyazaki films. I love Nausicaa; I quite like Totoro and Kiki; I've enjoyed a few of the other older ones; but unlike pretty much everyone else in the world, I didn't much like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away.

So I figured I would see Ponyo at some point, but also figured I might not like it much. And—unusually for me—I didn't watch any previews or read any reviews; wasn't avoiding it, just wasn't paying attention. (And now, having seen the Disney trailer, I'm glad I didn't see that before seeing the movie. Very misleading trailer.)

Kam and I decided earlier in the week to go see it on Friday the 11th, but I somehow still didn't look up anything about it.

We thought the showtime was 7:45 p.m. Around 7:10, I wanted to check on how long the movie was, so I looked it up and discovered that the showtime was actually 7:25. So instead of waiting in the office for Kam to pick me up (she was already on her way), I walked outside and stood on the sidewalk.

While I waited, I looked down at the creek, and there were dragonflies. Pretty! That put me in a good mood. I posted a note to Facebook saying that I like dragonflies. Pretty much instantaneously (seriously, it must have been within about two seconds), a high school friend posted a comment saying "Me TOO!", which put me in an even better mood.

Kam picked me up, we got to the theatre in time (it's just a few blocks from work), there was no line (where was everyone on a Friday evening?), I got popcorn (having not yet had dinner) while Kam got seats, and I made it to my seat before the trailers ended.

So I was cheerful and happy by the time the movie started. Which may have contributed to my liking it.

Okay, I suppose by ten paragraphs in, I ought to have started actually talking about the movie:

The movie is thoroughly charming.

It's not Deep. It's not Dark. It's not Grim. It's not even terribly Thought-Provoking.

But it's charming and sweet and (in places) funny, and has Miyazaki's usual lovely animation (I especially liked the various ancient fish), and I enjoyed it a great deal.

What I liked best was the characters. Sosuke is a great portrayal of the sort of five-year-old who's used to taking on responsibilities. Ponyo looks like she's Sosuke's age but acts younger (because she's newer to being human), in a variety of charming ways.

And Sosuke's mother Lisa is great. My favorite scene in the movie is the sad but very emotionally-real-feeling sequence in which Lisa gets mad at her husband for heading out to sea again instead of coming home as he'd promised.

And my favorite line in the movie is something Lisa says when she's confronted with magic. I'm not certain of the exact phrasing, but other sites have quoted it thusly:

Life is mysterious and amazing. . . . But we have work to do now.

But it's hard to convey the tone of that line in print; in particular, it's hard to make clear that the second sentence wasn't dismissive of the first.

I'm not sure how that line came across in the original Japanese version. But in English, as delivered by Tina Fey, I loved it. (And speaking of Fey, I thought all the voice actors in the English version did a fine job, and I didn't recognize any of them by their voices even after seeing the opening credits that listed the actors.)

Speaking of translation, I have no idea how faithful the English translation is, but it seems to me to fit the movie pretty well. But I'm curious about some things from the original, particularly what Japanese term was translated as "goldfish."

The movie does, of course, have flaws. I'd say there were about four:

  1. The anticlimactic climax, which doesn't really make much sense even on the movie's own terms.
  2. Some slightly retro gender dynamics.
  3. The awful inane song that plays over the closing credits.
  4. The attempt to link this to the original story of "The Little Mermaid" via the line about sea foam (and a couple of other bits).

But those are all minor things; the movie overall is lovely.

One Response to “Ponyo”

  1. wintersweet

    (I didn’t realize my e-mail address would be displayed–most sites don’t display it but do require it. Could you delete my previous comment if it’s not too much trouble?)

    I had to watch “Spirited Away” twice before I liked it–and then I really liked it.

    The closing song remix was irritating…blurgh.

    Overall, I thought it was one of the fluffiest Ghibli movies, more along the quality of “The Cat Returns” than their best films. But a so-so Ghibli film is still pretty good, so.


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