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Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo

Monday 25th November 2013

Andrew Osmond on Miyazaki’s Ponyo

PonyoHayao Miyazaki aims his tenth animated feature at young children, with a cute magic character as its star – Ponyo, a perky red goldfish who turns into a little girl. Fans wondered if Miyazaki was remaking My Neighbour Totoro, his previous children’s classic about a cute fantasy creature. But Ponyo, while delightful, doesn’t really feel like Totoro, nor like Miyazaki’s other early films. There’s an array of strange creatures and characters, an unpredictable plot, and offbeat ideas spun into cartoon spectacle.

A boy, Sosuke, lives in a clifftop house with his excitingly reckless mother, Lisa, who treats Sosuke as a grown-up in every important decision. The five year-old’s characterisation switches between a near-toddler and a mini-adult, in contrast to the far more consistent cartoon kids in films such as Mamoru Hosoda’s The Wolf Children, Miyazaki’s own Totoro and Disney’s Lilo and Stitch. In Ponyo, realism is rarely a priority.

Sosuke’s father is away at sea, and Lisa’s exasperation with this is comically exaggerated when the family communicates through ship-lamps and Morse. Miyazaki has confessed to being a largely absent husband and dad, and that’s represented here. Both husbands in Ponyo revere and are terrified by their wives, their femininity linked to the crashing sea.

Playing by the water, Sosuke finds the Ponyo fish stuck in a jamjar. He rescues and cares for her, carrying her around in a bucket and forming a bond, which spills over into love when she speaks to him. Later, Ponyo gains spectacular powers and turns the sea into a torrent of giant foaming fish-shaped spirits, on which she bounds confidently on her new-grown legs.

The bravura animation, showing the magic waves crashing explosively against a coastal road, conveys mighty nature even more forcefully than Miyazaki’s epic Princess Mononoke. Of course, the scene feels far stranger to watch after the catastrophic tsunami of March 2011, though the whole Ponyo scene plays like a children’s fantasy. Miyazaki had used similar imagery three decades earlier in a 1978 TV series, Future Boy Conan.

The flood in Ponyo engulfs Sosuke’s town, but no-one is hurt or hysterical. Instead, the event is treated like a child’s first snowfall, turning familiar scenery into magic. Ponyo draws on “The Little Mermaid” (and “Cinderella” in the way Ponyo’s transformation has a time-limit) but it also recalls how L. Frank Baum described his book, The Wizard of Oz: “A modernised fairy tale in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” True, there’s brief distress when Sosuke fears he might have lost his mother, but Ponyo is there to bolster him up.

As animation, Ponyo rolls back the frightening shadows of Coraline, Toy Story and even Snow White. Like many Miyazaki films, it stresses how children negotiate their surroundings. In a beautifully observed and paced early scene, Sosuke paddles cautiously out to rescue Ponyo, who flaps around with her head in the jamjar.

PonyoMiyazaki also makes play with magic undersea membranes that Ponyo must breach, sluicing water deliciously back and forth. The sequence is humorously contrasted with Ponyo’s experience of dry land, where she dashes uncontrollably round in Sosuke’s house and bangs into a door. Later, she and Sosuke sail a magically-grown toy boat across the flooded town, peering at prehistoric fish swimming placidly down roads and over houses.

Structurally, Ponyo recalls the 1968 Toei film The Little Norse Prince, on which Miyazaki worked under Isao Takahata. The first half focuses on Sosuke’s fascination with the magic alien. The second half shows Ponyo learning what humans are and how to be one. Her exciting first dinner in Sosuke’s home is shown at length, as is her inspection of a glowering baby. Her heritage is borrowed cheekily yet majestically from Norse myth. Her given name is Brunhilde, her mother is a serene red-haired giantess, and the score spoofs “The Ride of the Valkyries” during Ponyo’s plucky wavetop dash.

Ponyo, though, finally breaks free of parents and magic to live her chosen life, reprising themes in Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. As in Howl and Spirited Away, the final reckoning is thrown away insouciantly. Sosuke’s last “challenge” is just to confirm what he’s proved, that he loves Ponyo whoever she is. The build-up to the climax is the climax.

The hand-drawing involves flattened perspectives, soft-textured pastel backdrops and humped-up seas as massive and dynamic as Laputa’s clouds. Straight lines are out; the wavy, childish opening titles recall those for the vintage Japanese puppet show Hyokkori Hyotanjima, which was sampled in Studio Ghibli’s Only Yesterday. At times it seems that every frame of Ponyo wriggles with mundane and magic fishy creatures, foaming waves and crawling critters.

Ponyo is one of several Ghibli steelbooks released in the the UK by Studio Canal.


Akira (the Collector\'s Edition) Triple Play Edition (incl. Blu-ray, Dvd, Digital Copy)

was £29.99
Iconic and game-changing, Akira is the definitive anime masterpiece! Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark cyberpunk classic obliterated the boundaries of Japanese animation and forced the world to look into the future. Akira’s arrival shattered traditional thinking, creating space for movies like The Matrix to be dreamed into brutal reality.

Neo-Tokyo, 2019. The city is being rebuilt post World War III when two high school drop outs, Kaneda and Tetsuo stumble across a secret government project to develop a new weapon - telekinetic humans. After Tetsuo is captured by the military and experimented on, he gains psychic abilities and learns about the existence of the project's most powerful subject, Akira. Both dangerous and destructive, Kaneda must take it upon himself to stop both Tetsuo and Akira before things get out of control and the city is destroyed once again. 
AKIRA The Collector’s Edition features both the original 1988 Streamline English dub and the 2001

Pioneer/Animaze English dub!



Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.

Akira's Ancestors

Andrew Osmond on the unexpected forerunners of Neo-Tokyo
In Akira’s opening moments, a sphere of white light appears from nowhere in the centre of Tokyo, and swells to obliterate the city. Many Western critics saw the image as a symbol of the Bomb, like the earlier Japanese pop-culture icon, Godzilla. But the designer apocalypse could be taken as Akira’s own mission statement – to be a new kind of entertainment, blowing away its peers and reshaping the cinema landscape.

The Impact of Akira

Andrew Osmond reviews the reviews from 20 years ago.
On its explosive arrival in the West, Akira crossed the Pacific to catch the generation that grew up on the films of Spielberg and Lucas; it was also the generation that read adult superhero strips such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Akira, though, offered the shock-and-awe widescreen violence akin to that of enfant terrible live-action director, Paul Verhoeven. For example, both Akira and Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) have a gory money-shot scene in their early minutes, in which a luckless bit-part player is graphically torn apart by a hail of bullets. Unsurprisingly, such imagery excited reviewers.

Akira 25th Anniversary Screenings

Your chance to see it in the cinema in the UK
Neo-Tokyo is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E. Katsuhiro Otomo’s debut animated feature AKIRA had its Japanese premiere on 16th July 1988. We are very proud to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of what is undoubtedly, one of the most celebrated animated movies of all time. Voted by Empire readers as one of the top 100 best films ever and cited by everyone from James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Daft Punk and Kanye West as a massive influence on their work, AKIRA kick-started the anime business all over the world, opening the doors for everything from Pokémon to Princess Mononoke.

The Art of Akira

Joe Peacock tracks down the original images from the anime classic
Watching Akira for the first time provokes a universal reaction of awe. And justifiably so: there’s often an overwhelming sense among audiences that this animated film is unlike any other they’ve ever seen. Casual viewers won’t be able to put their finger on it; they just know that Akira is visually striking. Art and illustration aficionados appreciate the intricacy of individual scenes, sometimes pausing the film to appreciate the detail in a particular frame.

Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira then and now

Helen McCarthy examines Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark Akira, then and now
1988 in Japan: Yamaha Motors won the J-League but Nissan won the Cup. Western pop divas Bananarama, Kylie and Tiffany were on TV. Japanese real estate values climbed so high that the Imperial Palace garden was worth more than the State of California, and Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward had a higher market value than Canada. The Government signed the FIRST Basel Accord, triggering a crash that wiped out half Japan’s stock market. Katsuhiro Omoto’s movie Akira premiered on 16th July.


With the release of Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 1 now available to fans on both Blu-ray and DVD, we take a look at what sets Kai and Z apart.

Comicon Pics

Just some of the Comicon cosplays, photographed by Paul Jacques
As promised, here are just a few of the pictures taken by our photographer Paul Jacques at the MCM Comicon this May. Some pretty amazing stuff on offer behind the LINK.
Following on from our English voice actor article, it's time to share with you our favourite Japanese language voice actors.

Who's Who in Dragon Ball #5

Ever wonder just how Goku and friends became the greatest heroes on Earth?
Wonder no more, as the original Dragon Ball reveals the origins of Akira Toriyama’s beloved creations! The faces may look familiar, but everything else is different in this classic series!

Mamoru Oshii Interview

The director of Ghost in the Shell on being digital
"For the first time in my career I was dealing with something that existed only as data within a machine. In a way, I felt shocked, but at the same time I understood that it was the prelude of what my job as a filmmaker was going to be."

Men in Black

Jonathan Clements on the rise of the ninja
With a gruelling shoot that spanned April 2007 to September 2008 after its leading man’s injury on set, filmed in the sub-tropical heat of Japan’s idyllic Ryukyu island chain, Kamui evokes a savage era where all unwelcome influences were ruthlessly suppressed, and plays with the notion that the Japanese peasantry of the 17th century had formed secret societies of semi-magical assassins.

New Ghibli Film Announced

Suzuki’s swansong will be the ultimate in exclusivity
Rough artwork has been leaked of Studio Ghibi’s next film, announced as the ultimate in collectibles: a film released in a single print, with a guarantee of no DVD or Blu-ray release. Slated for release in one year’s time, Gertie the Dinosaur began with the most unlikely of inspirations for a much-loved children’s studio.
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