If you have heard of any Japanese director, then it is likely to be Miyazaki. The protégée of Toei Animation grandmaster Isao Takahata’s, Miyazaki is best known for creating some of the most beautiful animated films of all time. While Princess Monoke (1997) & Spirited Away (2001) have rightfully received their share of adulation. The same cannot be seen of Ponyo, originally called Gake no Ue no Ponyo (literally Ponyo on the Cliff in English. Its time this changed, and Ponyo receives the attention it deserves in the West.
For my money Ponyo is behind only to Spirited Away (2001) & Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) as the third best anime film of all time.
The film tells the story of a young boy named Sosuke who finds and falls in love with a sentient female goldfish who has adopted the name of Ponyo, despite the protestations of her father. Ponyo longs to leave the sea and live on the land among the humans. Along the way Ponyo must use her magical powers to achieve her dream of living happily-ever-after. If this story sounds familiar that is no surprise. It is based on the story of 'The Little Mermaid' by Danish author Hans Christian-Anderson and serves as an ‘reimagining’ of the story within a Japanese mythological context. It is testimony to respect for cinematic anime felt by Hollywood by the new-millennium that the talents of Matt Damon, Cate Blanchette and Liam Neeson all lent their voices to the Western dub.
There is a bit of contention surrounding Ponyo due to the involvement of Disney’s Bueno Vista Home Entertainment. This coupled with the calibre of voice-talents for the dub led to a fear among some of ‘Disneyfication’ of Japanese anime. However, watching the movie dispels this fear straight away. It is purely from the mind and hand of Hayao Miyazaki. For my money Ponyo is behind only to Spirited Away (2001) & Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988) as the third best anime film of all time, and one that perhaps needs a re-release on a streaming service like Netflix or even back to the big screen to get the audience recognition to match its critical appraisal.