Gake No Ue No Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)

Rating – ***1/2

I’ve been pretty lazy on the reviews front lately. Maybe it’s the numbing effect of awards-season shoving so many over hyped  “important” films down our throats. Sure, Up in the Air and Invictus etc have merit. I just can’t be arsed to write much about them. Although I did enjoy watching Morgan Freeman play a president without any impending asteroids to worry about. As for Precious, I’m in no rush to see it. I can smell the manipulated emotions a mile away. 

Anyway, all of that goes out the window with the long awaited UK release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo. It would be easy to believe that this timeless film was actually a lost Miyazaki relic from decades ago. There are no signs that this old master of Japanese animation has been tainted by (or even acknowledges) his comparatively recent commercial success with Western audiences. He continues to craft effortless fairytales without any obnoxious CG sidekicks in sight.

The leisurely pace and gentle tone could easily be dismissed or overlooked, but for me every frame oozed charm, shrewd observation, and a deep understanding of children and nature. There are also moments of delirious visual wonder which match CG behemoths like Avatar in their artistry and impact. I never get tired of traditional cell animation, it resonates so deeply both emotional and intellectually. Understanding the technical process only magnifies the sense of wonder. It’s similar to the joy of watching speckled stop motion thumbprints dance across Gromit’s plasticine nose. But in this case, painting tidal waves by hand is NOT easy. Yet every single one of them moves flawlessly, pulsing with shoals of bioluminescent fish while smashing into cliff tops as a little girl sprints across them. I actually did get watery eyes a few times. Not because these are sad moments, it’s just so thrilling to witness this phenomenal art form unfolding on the screen at the highest level of excellence.

The plot is undoubtedly slight but it allows the characters to shine. If you must know, Ponyo is all about a goldfish who escapes to the surface, meets a little boy and develops a love for ham, then ultimately transforms into a human…. no, really! The film possesses some qualities you can only find in masterpieces like ET, Pans Labyrinth, and Miyazki’s own back catalogue. Anybody who appreciates My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and of course, Spirited Away, should leave the cinema with a smile and a warm contented glow.

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~ by thewholebuffalo on February 17, 2010.

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