Friday, August 21, 2009


Not With a Bang But a Whimper

There's no doubt that I am a huge Hayao Miyazuki fan. His work at the so-called Disney of Japan studios, Ghibli Studios is generally excellent. But I was really disappointed in what was to be his swan song (he's 68 and apparently retiring) Ponyo. Man, that was a poor movie--so bad as to edge into child abuse, considering its intended audience.

How do I not love you? Let me count the disappointing ways:

Most of Studio Ghibli's actual artwork is, like much of anime, beautiful but detailed. Here it is hazy and full of pastels, almost like children's' drawings, but not in a minimalist good way, not even stylized like the 19th Century wood cuts--very unsatisfying.

The title character is again a 5 year old girl (but unlike the main character in Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies not at all endearing). When she makes the complete transition to girl from girl-like fish (don't ask), she seems to be wearing diapers or 19th Century bloomers. Either way, quite disturbing.

There has always been an undercurrent of ecological thinking in even the early movies (Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke explicitly so) but it was subtle, as was the collectivist inclusiveness, dare I say it, the pro-diversity sub-theme, but Ponyo is politically correct central, as subtle as a framing hammer to the thumb.

In the earlier films (notably Castle in the Sky) we could tell the protagonists loved each other by their actions, there was no need for exposition by others and certainly no need for a lame, formal test/ceremony of love. What has happened to the master storyteller's skill set?

There was generally a sense of wonder in the earlier works, replaced here by a seriously didactic meme (the kids naming the Devonian fish they recognized is but a minor example of this wrong turn).

What's with it about Miyazaki's recent near obsession with old ladies? There was the ever aging witch in Howl's Moving Castle reproduced nearly intact here and then multiplied. I know Japan's population is aging seriously and badly, and there are few children to replace (and support financially) the ancient ones, but really would any mother of a 5 year old, at the height of a storm that has cut off the power and threatens to isolate the house, leave the child at home to go help the 'seniors' at the senior care center on the other side of town? "You be good now, Sosuke. See ya." That was madness.

Liam Neeson was a weird choice for the title character's human hating, ecologically minded human father. Tina Fey was the voice of the all accepting mother (although she was able to avoid saying: "I can see China from my house." here). I thought Noah Cyrus did a good job as Ponyo's English voice but what a bad name she has--I thought she was an achy breaky son. Matt Damon's contribution was, thankfully, just a few lines long. Whenever I see or hear him, it is all I can do to stop from yelling out in a moronic voice, "Matt Damon!"

Finally there was the insipid, treacley closing song repeating the name Ponyo over and over and over. It sticks with you like only truly execrable songs can, maddeningly.

I have reserved praising the good things about this move for the end but, alas, I can think of nothing. See any of the other films by him but avoid this like the plague.


Ok, I saw this movie too and I didn't hate it, it was cute and I was surrounded by delighted little kids and ok,fine, I see your point.

this is my favorite line EVER
"Finally there was the insipid, treacley closing song repeating the name Ponyo over and over and over. It sticks with you like only truly execrable songs can, maddeningly."

I RAN out of the theatre. Not kidding
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