Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Ponyo is an imaginative movie about childlike wonder and what it means to love unconditionally. The story follows five-year-old Sosuke, who rescues a “goldfish” from a jar in the ocean and names her Ponyo. However, Ponyo is really a magical fish-girl who has run away from her wizard father to see more of the world. She eventually uses her magic to transform completely into a human, but Sosuke must prove he can love Ponyo in both forms, if she is to remain on land. If Sosuke fails, she will melt into sea foam.
As in many Miyazaki films, some of the logistics of Ponyo do not make much sense. Beyond the fact that adults in the movie apparently see no problem with five-year-old children running about a flooded town alone, there are some inconsistencies (or, at least, unexplained circumstances) with the magic. Ponyo’s birth and existence as a fish-girl are themselves in question. Her transformation to human form also somehow upsets the balance of the world, in way that is never entirely clear. In the end, however, the movie requires a certain suspension of disbelief anyway. It is, after all, about a magical fish-girl. So most viewers likely will have no problem overlooking a few other mysteries.
I personally found most of the characters very likable. Sosuke is an intelligent, thoughtful child who seems to have an open heart for everyone around him: Ponyo, his mother, the women at the senior center where his mother works. Ponyo, as a human, can border on annoying since she has a penchant for repeating things, but her exuberance and wonder at all her new experiences are ultimately catching. Even Ponyo’s father, the story’s “villain” has enough complexity and depth to allow viewers to understand the actions he takes to retrieve his daughter from the “evil” humans.
Ponyo’s father also has an obsession with saving the environment, particularly the ocean, which I thought would become a major theme. However, it never truly did. His concern about pollution ends up mostly explaining only his personality; there does not seem to be a larger message for the audience. The real theme of the movie is actually love. The plot focuses on the love between Sosuke and Ponyo, which Sosuke is asked to dramatically prove, but viewers see him exhibit the same type of unconditional love for other characters. His actions ultimately become a model for the adults in the story, as well.
Ponyo is an endearing film that truly celebrates the innocence and wonder of childhood. Many of Miyazaki’s films are about growing up, but Ponyo recognizes that children have valuable talents and worldviews that adults should consider emulating. Both fun and inspiring, this is a great film.
Note: The English subtitles were very different from the English dubbing, with the subtitles being more philosophical and focused on abstract ideas like destiny.