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(Gake no ue no Ponyo) (Japan)

  Publicity Stills of
"Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea"
(Courtesy of Encore Films)

In Japanese with English & Chinese Subtitles
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Jôji Tokoro, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Yuki Amami, Kazushige Nagashima, Akiko Yano, Shinichi Hatori, Tokie Hidari
RunTime: 1 hr 41 mins
Released By: Encore Films & GV
Rating: G
Official Website: http://www.encorefilms.com/ponyo

Opening Day: 1 January 2009


Sosuke is a five year old boy who lives on a cliff. One day, he rescues a strange looking goldfish and names her Ponyo after taking a great liking to her, and promises to protect her forever. Unknown to him, Ponyo is a magic fish and she decides that she wants to live with Sosuke. Unfortunately, Ponyo's decision to give up her underwater life creates a crack in an ancient magic spell and places the world in danger. Together, Sosuke and Ponyo must set things right

Movie Review:

Much like Pixar is revered in Hollywood as the undisputed producer of high-quality 3D animated films, Studio Ghibli certainly deserves its status as the gold standard as far as Japanese anime is concerned. What makes the achievement even more remarkable is that Studio Ghibli still relies on traditional hand-drawn 2D animation for the majority of its anime films. Its latest anime feature "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" not only maintains this tradition, it raises the bar even higher by having the entire anime made using hand-drawn animation, of which a whopping 170,000 images were used.

For this feature, director-writer Hayao Miyazaki has chosen to reinterpret the age-old Little Mermaid tale by introducing us to Ponyo, a goldfish with a human face who yearns to be entirely human. Through a twist of fate, she gets to befriend a 5-year-old boy named Sosuke. After being held captive by her father Fujimoto, Ponyo escapes while transforming herself into a human girl through the use of Fujimoto's magic, resulting in a huge thunderstorm and massive flood for upsetting the balance of the human world and sea world due to her transformation. Sosuke and Ponyo find themselves not only in a quest to reunite with each other, but to restore the balance of the two worlds as well.

As anime enthusiasts would know, Miyazaki is known for including nature and friendship themes in his works. "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" is by no means an exception to the rule. The sea plays a large part in the film as if it is a character, which is beautifully hand-drawn and animated by Miyazaki himself. The overall storyline is solely focused on the relationship between Ponyo and Sosuke, further simplifying the plot for the benefit of child viewers. The other Miyazaki trademark of uniquely interesting characters is also in abundance here. From Ponyo's little siblings, the wave demons to Ponyo herself, there is never a dull moment when these characters appear onscreen. Miyazaki even takes inspiration from his own loved ones in creating two of the human characters: Sosuke is based on his son Goro when Goro was 5 years old, whereas Toki, the unpleasant old lady in the old folks' home where Sosuke's mother works, is actually based on Miyazaki's mother.

One of the minor complaints I have about the film is its lack of tension, considering the fact that it is partly an adventure film. When Ponyo and Sosuke set out to search for Sosuke's mother across the flooded areas after the thunderstorm, there is never any sense of impending danger. Instead, they are shown having a relaxing time cruising around while animal-watching and meeting people. The other issue is that there is no elaboration on how Sosuke's mother and the old ladies from the old folks' home end up where they are near the film's final moments. One could argue that this is after all, a children's movie, so the absence of tension and exposition is still forgivable, but adult viewers who have higher expectations may disagree.

Having said that, it is best to enjoy the film for what it is. A simple story of friendship filled with endearing characters fit for children of all ages. If the bright and lively watercoloured visuals can't grab their attention, perhaps the energetic voiceovers will. One of the strengths that Japanese anime has over Western animated films are the excellent voice casting which does not bank on star power, allowing the audience to appreciate the film more for its content rather than noting whose voices are behind the scenes. Suspension of disbelief is also required, so you can stop wondering how Fujimoto, who is obviously human, can have Ponyo the goldfish as his daughter.

If you are a fan of Miyazaki's previous works such as "My Neighbour Totoro" and "Spirited Away", you won’t be disappointed with this one. In fact, you might find yourself singing along to the Ponyo theme song and getting yourself a Ponyo toy after you leave the cinema.

Movie Rating:

(Anime master Hayao Miyazaki delivers yet again, so kids can surely flock along to the cinemas to see the cute and lovable Ponyo as part of the new year celebration)

Review by Tan Heng Hau


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. Vexille (2007)

. Paprika (2006)

. Brave Story (2006)

. Doraemon The Movie (2006)

. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

. Tales from Earthsea DVD (2006)

. Dororo DVD (2007)

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