Posted by psgels on 23 August 2009 with categories: Anime Reviews



Okay, so I finally managed to check out this movie. My big fear before I started watching it that, now that he’s almost reached his retirement, Hayao Miyazaki would have lost his touch by now, especially considering how his previous movie (Howl’s Moving Castle) was arguably his least impressive work. Nevertheless, these fears were ungrounded: Ponyo shows that the old master still has plenty of tricks left up his sleeve. And then some.

Miyazaki’s movies that he made for Ghibli can basically be divided into two categories: epic and down-to-earth. With Ponyo, he tries to combine the two by creating a charming little story about a five year old boy who meets a goldfish with magical powers, and yet creates enough opportunities to show off some amazingly creative visuals and animation that you wouldn’t expect in such a down to earth movie. The result really works and it’s become a movie that’s suitable for any age to enjoy.

The animation really shows how much work went into this movie. Even though CG is the norm in today’s anime, Ponyo is entirely drawn by hand, and contains a record number of 170000 hand drawn pictures. This series really shows how much you can do with just animation: in an industry of anime in which the norm is to cut corners, this movie is full of life with an amazing attention to detail in even the slightest moves, and there’s hardly any frame in which something isn’t moving. The amount of eye candy in this movie is also amazing, and even though the art style is simpler than in some of his previous works, the visuals still rank amongst his most impressive.

This movie also excels in its portrayal of five-year-olds. I read somewhere that Hayao Miyazaki lives right next to a kindergarten school or something similar, and so he’s had plenty of opportunities to fully study how little kids behave. Kosuke is a bit timid, but a very likable young lead. This series doesn’t have much character-development and background (only a few side-characters have a serious change of character), but considering the story and situations they were thrown in, they didn’t really need to: it was fun enough to watch them as they were and extra focus to get some character-development or background in would only have gotten in the way of what’s really important.

My problems with this series lies within some of its messages it attempts to teach to kids. With the environmentalist that Hayao Miyazaki is, I expected that he would show the bad implications of major floods. Instead, a flood in this series just appears, puts an entire landscape under water for a few hours and then disappears without ever leaving a trace. Oh, I’d wish that reality were this simple and convenient. Or how about people who’ve lost their ability to walk, and suddenly are rid of their problems due to magic. Yes kids! If you have some sort of incurable ailment, just hope that a person with magic will arrive and wave these problems away!

Anyway, it’s been more than a year now since I watched all of Miyazaki’s major movies. Looking back, his movie that turned out the most memorable for me was Porco Rosso, which probably was his most mature movie. Ponyo, his least mature movie, probably isn’t going to take that place, but yet it is a very charming movie to behold and definitely worth the watch unless you absolutely can’t stand childish stuff.

Storytelling: 8/10
Characters: 8/10
Production-Values: 10/10
Setting: 8/10

30 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    Last weekend I went and saw Ponyo at my local multiplex and I absolutely loved the experience; I feel the only place to properly watch a Ghibli film is on a movie theater screen.

    I didn’t find there to be any problem with the flood covering everything then everything going back to normal afterwards. As Ponyo’s father points out, Ponyo’s drinking of Kosuke’s blood throws the magical world and the real world into chaos, and Ponyo must become human or turn into sea foam for order to be restored.

    The ability of the old people to walk again is only temporary, if you noticed that when Ponyo & Kosuke had to continue their journey on foot and as they’re about to enter the tunnel we see off to the left of the entrance a stone guardian. In previous Miyazaki films he’s used this device to symbolise the border between the real world and the realm of the Kami. In Spirited Away, Miyazaki also used the device of the tunnel and the stone markers to separate the real world and the realm of the spirits for Chihiro and her family. If you noticed that as Kosuke and Ponyo travelled through the tunnel Ponyo’s human transformation slowly faded; she was returning to her “natural” form in the spirit realm.

    But, once Kosuke and Ponyo prove their love for each other and Ponyo becomes a real human girl, Ponyo’s goddess mother and wizard father will withdraw from the mortal world and once again the two worlds will be separated again and everything will go back to normal. So, I assume that once everything goes back to normal and the two worlds are back in there proper places the old people will gradually revert to their aged forms.

  2. Avatar Theowne says:

    I feel like this one meandered a bit at times. Not near the top of the Ghibli list for me.

  3. Avatar Kalandra says:

    I think this is the first time that you gave a ten for production values.

  4. I loved this movie. Especially the fact that it was drawn entirely by hand, and was still more breathtaking than many other animated films.

    I don’t get why no one seems to like Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve heard a couple people say that it wasn’t his best, but I think that it was actually one of his better films.

    Miyazaki can do no wrong in my eyes it seems.

  5. Avatar Shirachi says:

    What’s with all the hate on Howl? That’s by far my favorite Ghibi movie.

    I’d personally rate Ponyo very low on the list; it’s nowhere near as good as his normal films. It’s childish to a sickly fault(yet I could fully enjoy Totoro), the story is all but absent, and the “test of love” was ridiculous – especially when you take into account that they’re five.

    The only thing that made the movie was the characters – well, Ponyo’s father, who’s adorably awesome – and the animation.

  6. Avatar Kim says:

    I actually saw this movie last night and while I enjoyed it to an extent: loved the animation and how innocent & charming it was. I did think it was lacking in plot. As someone else said Totoro was also fairly simple but I felt it wasn’t as corny. I guess because it didn’t have the save the world with the power of love sub plot.

    And while I did enjoy the spunky senior citizens. I also felt the fact that everyone called run around at the end was pretty cheap. Even in a kid’s movie I don’t think everything needs to be solved so easily. In some ways I think the story would have been better if Ponyo had to stay in the sea.

  7. Avatar Wyrdwad says:

    Yay! I just saw this one recently myself, and absolutely loved it. I’m glad you did too – and I’m also glad I’m not the only person who considers Porco Rosso his best work.

    -Tom

  8. Avatar Haruka says:

    I just saw Ponyo yesterday. I thought it was fantastic and I liked the more old-school water coloured art. And I couldn’t agree more on Miyazaki’s portrayal of young children – it was spot on ^^.

  9. Avatar evolstar says:

    I find it interesting to read what Miyazaki film people like best. I’ve heard Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and now Porco Russo as favorites. If there is so much debate over which one is his best, it just goes to show that Miyazaki is a brilliant director who has such a plethora of amazing films.

    As for this movie, I haven’t seen the english dub version yet but I thought the movie was cute and the visuals outstanding. As for magic miraculously allowing the elderly to run, how about in Princess Mononoke when the forest god cured Ashitaka’s bullet wound? Oh yeah, that’s realistic. THIS IS A KID MOVIE, why can’t magic and love cure all? Disney does it all the time!

    I guess I’m not one who looks for realism in a kid’s movie. Realism is not something that should be looked for Miyazaki’s movies. A major reason why he’s so loved is his out of the box, original, fantastic characters and plots.

    Sorry for the ranting but I love Miyazaki (if you hadn’t noticed already :) ) he is one of the reasons why I started watching anime in the first place. Spirited Away was one of the first animes I ever saw so it holds a special place in my heart.

  10. Avatar Kim says:

    Why can’t magic and love cure all? Disney does it all the time

    Because it is horribly cliche and I don’t like it when Disney does it either. Children are smart they don’t need stories where everything is solved so easily.

    I love Miyazaki but that doesn’t mean he is above criticism.

  11. Avatar Theowne says:

    On the topic of Miyazaki in general, I’d say his best films are Mononoke -> Porco Rosso -> Totoro -> Laputa and then etc. Howl’s is his worst in my opinion. But curiously I consider the best Studio Ghibli works to be two non-Miyazaki films.

  12. Avatar Wyrdwad says:

    I’m gonna actually go out on a limb here, and say that my least-favorite Miyazaki work, aside from Nausicaa (which I honestly don’t like at all), is probably Spirited Away. I truly don’t understand all the love that movie receives… it felt like it was trying too hard to be too many things, and never spending enough time being any one of them. I like it when Miyazaki focuses – when he’s all over the place, it just doesn’t work as well IMHO.

    Castle in the Sky is one I keep forgetting about, too… I love Castle in the Sky. Probably my second- or third-favorite of his works.

    -Tom

  13. Avatar Theowne says:

    While Spirited Away isn’t my least favourite film, I also felt like it was a bit “all over” and I didn’t think it was nearly as cohesive as something like Laputa or Mononoke. I feel like it is very much overrated but only in regards to Miyazaki’s other works. As a standalone film, it is still fantastic.

  14. Avatar Wyrdwad says:

    Oh, I completely agree. The only Miyazaki movie (and indeed, the only Studio Ghibli movie) I legitimately DISlike is Nausicaa. I’ve found every other one I’ve seen – which is most of them – to be, on some level, brilliant.

    Even Tales From Earthsea is spectacular, IMHO, and probably ranks among my favorite Studio Ghibli movies.

    -Tom

  15. Avatar Konstantinos Travlos says:

    Sorry. I li9ke Nausicaa Manga and Anime. But I saw the anime before reading the manga so it may help me like the movie more then others. I like all his epic movies. Can’t say something about his more children oriented ones, since I have only seen Spirited Away which I enjoyed. But I do want an new epic one from him. Howl was fun but not epic enough.

  16. Avatar kabli says:

    not wanna be rude to you dude but your review annoys the shit out of me. There are so many things wrong with it that makes me wanna punch everyone in the face.

  17. Avatar darkerthanblackswordsman says:

    I always enjoy a good Miyazaki debate, mainly because you get the full spectrum of opinions. For his best film is Howl’s Moving Castle, followed by Spirited Away, Naussica, Totoro and Porco Rosso. Ponyo probably comes right after, though I am not sure.

    I find it strange that you consider Porco Rosso to be his most mature film, as I always thought of it as his most simple, straightforward story, with nothing really on the side. Just great characters and an incredible atmosphere (which always reminds me Casablanca for a reason unknown). But certainly, his most “mature” film is Howl’s Moving Castle, which is also his most intelligent, imaginative and dense films he has ever made. You can take 10 min. of that film, and there is enough concepts, character development, emotional arcs, intellectual ideas and sheer magic and atmosphere to fill up an entire movie, without it being a stretch [the same is true for Spirited Away and Naussica, though to a lesser extent]. To all who dislike Howl, give the film another shot. It may be too dense for a lot of people to get into the first time through, but trust me, it’s worth it. Having seen it 6 times, I am still finding new elements in it (and I’m not talking minor detail).

    As for the flood not being dangerous… how can I respond to that? I mean, what do you want? Teach kids cynicism? Rather than show the sea as something to be afraid of (which he partially does; remember the kid walking out on the beach?) he makes the sea something magical and beautiful, something that you fall in love with and want to protect and cherish. I find that to be a far better message than “nature is dangerous and is out to destroy everything around you”. As for the healing of the elderly, as someone already pointed out, that was temporary. Besides, as a medical student, I can tell you that far more “miraculous” things can happen than what is shown in the film, if you can just activate the proper associations in the patient, and put him/her in the proper state of mind. patients who not only are seemingly physically incapable of walking, but have forgotten how to do so, may get up and dance with a little bit of luck. Surely magic can do better than we humble slaves of biochemistry?

  18. Avatar darkerthanblackswordsman says:

    Oh, and @Kim;
    Miyazaki can be criticized, but not successfully :-)

  19. Avatar Nat says:

    Agreed. Porco Rosso is probably my favorite of his movies. And it manages to be BOTH epic and down to earth.

    I tried to watch Ponyo the way a five year old would watch it, and got much better results that way than if I were to analyze whether of not the tidal wave was insensitive, or whether Kosuke’s dad is out fishing for whales, haha. Lots of married to the sea jokes. I am still not sure what role Ponyo’s dad had to play in the story, and what this movie says about parenting. Moms > Dads, mybe. I loved Lisa btw.

  20. Avatar Mark says:

    @ Kalandra

    PSGels has given one or two other series/shows/etc,a TEN for production values.

    http://psgels.net/category/finished-series/casshern-sins/

    I saw it in the the theatre,and LOVED it.The Englsih dub in genereal was good,but the one cast for Ponyo herself was annoying….And why the hell did they mess with the ORIGINAL music !???!

    Oh…psgels…why did you refer to this movie as a series ? “My problems with this series lies within” Really ? So when is the next ‘episode’
    of Ponyo airing !?? ^.^

    Oh,and out of all the R1 releases by Disney,on behalf of Ghibli (which I own,all of on dvd) Howl,is in my top 5.Spirited Away makes my top
    ten.Porco,Princess Mononoke,Naussica,and Castle in the Sky,are my top 4.

    “Tales of….” for me and my Wife,was utter garbage.Goro should find another line of work….
    No I am dead serious ! What a HUGE,massive,and completely unforgivable waste of precious Ghibli resources.No wonder father and son had a falling out over it.Its an embarrasement to the studio and Miyazaki Sr.The usually fantastic animation of course,then we are greeted with a horrible,broken plot,iffy va’ing in both langs,and simply terrible direction overall.I want my 38.98 back that I spent on the R2 dvd.

  21. Avatar Moo? says:

    That’s great, so far you’re the only one who agrees, Everyone I asked thought Howl’s Moving Castle was a “Great” movie, like mindless creatures only agreeing because others do. All of Miyazaki’s movies always left me with a feeling of wanting More, you know… like you can visualize a sequel in your mind or something, never wanting it to end, However Howl’s was the only one that did not make me feel this way. Yea it was an interesting movie, but… it was just lacking…
    I was reluctant to even watching this movie because of his last work, but based on your review, I’m downloading it right now :D.

  22. Avatar Jason says:

    Ponyo does not contain the word “end.” Instead, at the start of the film, Miyazaki gives us the caption: The Beginning. At first I thought this was a subtle joke by Miyazaki, considering that this is the man who has announced his retirement after his last three films, but soon realized that the film is about new beginnings, and the experience of watching it is akin to a rebirth. Miyazaki has crafted a piece of art that is so pure and innocent that while I was watching Ponyo every malevolent thought and action in my life was evaporated and all that remained was the pure optimism and hope of a beginning.

    Read my full review at http://cfilmc.com/ponyo/

  23. Avatar Deb says:

    I just saw Ponyo the other night. I won’t say it was bad, but I didn’t feel it was one of Miyazaki’s best. I had to take some time to think about why that was because, in general, I like all of his movies. I think it was a little too childish and bland for my taste. I relate better to his movies when they have more adult characters in them, like Howl’s Moving Castle or Princess Monoke. I don’t know how to put this exactly, but I was a little weirded out by the fact that Ponyo was a “love” story between two kindergarten aged kids?

  24. Avatar Solaris says:

    Deb, Ponyo is indeed a children’s story. Theorethically speaking, all of Miyazaki’s anime are intended for youngsters. As an example, Sen to Chihiro was aimed at 10 years old girls, but it had such a strong symbolism that it was more suitable to an older general audience instead.
    Further more, yes it was a story of friendship and love betwen kids. Love is intended as affection and not an adult way of loving, of course. Given that it’s not that weird, i suppose.

  25. Avatar mds says:

    I remembered that psgels has given the 10 in production values for about 4 times.
    This one,Bounen no Xamdou,Casshern Sins,and Batman : Gotham Knight.

  26. Avatar Tommy says:

    Watched Ponyo last night and enjoyed it. I thought it was ok, not one of his best. For me the ranking is Naussica, Spirited away for first, Castle in the sky, and Mononoke.

  27. Avatar fool says:

    I loved Howl’s Moving Castle, and I still do. Why? Because it has probably the most cathartic ending out of any Miyazaki movie.

  28. Avatar cheesesticks says:

    uhh, wasn’t his name sousuke? anyway, the animation was amazing, especially the fish-like waves, but yeah like the others, I didn’t get the trial of love thing either—they’re five! and the thing about them turning into seafoam reminded me of the little mermaid (the novel I mean) O.O

    this isn’t his best imo, I liked Spirited Away and Totoro better.

  29. Avatar cheesesticks says:

    uhh, wasn’t his name sousuke? anyway, the animation was amazing, especially the fish-like waves, but yeah like the others, I didn’t get the trial of love thing either—they’re five! and the thing about them turning into seafoam reminded me of the little mermaid (the novel I mean) O.O

    this isn’t his best imo, I liked Spirited Away and Totoro better.

  30. Avatar Ytinasni says:

    While I can’t say that it was his best, and trying to rate any of his movies in order is a challenge for me, what I can say is the Myazaki is a brilliant storyteller and the works that come out of ghibli are outstanding.

    I’m not sure why people are trying to find the one the liked the least, although I would say Tales from Earthsea was…flat? I don’t know, it didn’t stick out for me in terms of visual appeal like all of the other ones (but it was still spectacularly beautiful).

    Ponyo however, put me into a state where I felt like a kid again, I just sat there and enjoyed the visual feast.

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