Review: Gake No Ue No Ponyo (Ponyo, 2008)

Oh Miyazaki, I’m quite confident I would go full on gay for you by this point!

Written By: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

I don’t know why I bother with using descriptors like amazing, beautiful, or wonderful when it comes to Hayao Miyazaki films. When I sat down to write those were the words floating through my head, but this is Miyazaki we are talking about, it goes without saying that every film of his fits all three of those descriptors. Yet, here I sit knowing that in the next few paragraphs when I break down why I loved Gake No Ue No Ponyo so much I will inevitably say it was amazing, looked beautiful or was wonderfully imaginative. Sometimes as much as you may not want to the best course of action is the simplest, and that may be why Miyazaki is far and away the greatest director the world has ever seen (yes, you can go ahead and call the hyperbole police on me, but I’ve held that belief for years now and with every film of Miyazaki’s that I see my belief in the greatness of his skill only increases). While others strive to be complex and produce pictures that they feel will flex the mind of the viewer Miyazaki goes with what he knows best and by doing so makes films that are complex in their simplicity.

Many a person has compared Gake No Ue No Ponyo to one of Miyazaki’s earlier master works, Tonari No Totoro, and as much as I like to avoid such comparisons, it is an apt one. Both films are very similar in that they could care less about a story of any kind, rather they are concerned with the rush that comes from falling in love with a film and its characters. I know that’s a bit meta, but bear with me for a second. Gake No Ue No Ponyo doesn’t present a standard plot A, plot B type scenario, nor does it present any sort of real conflict. There isn’t a moment in the entirety of the film where you will believe that any character is in danger, but that’s okay. It’s also okay for Gake No Ue No Ponyo to lack a strong narrative pull, this isn’t a film built on conflict or a story drawing you in. Gake No Ue No Ponyo pulls you into its world with the simple facial expressions of Sosuke, the loving change of attitude in Risa when she sees her son needs her or the eternal bounciness of Ponyo when she first becomes human.

I have talked about the experience of watching a film before, about a film being able to so completely enmesh you in what it is trying to do that watching said film becomes more of an internal experience than an external one. That is perhaps the best way I can try and describe the effect Gake No Ue No Ponyo had on me. In typical Miyazaki fashion he transported me into this wonderfully imaginative (see, I told you so) world with these terrific characters and allowed my mind and the base emotions that drive us as humans to do the rest. Who can’t watch a school of otherworldly fish swim across a street and not let out a quiet “wow” with wide open eyes? I found myself laughing for a good five minutes after Ponyo became so excited over her night lite that she ran into the sliding door. To go back to the simplicity theme, these are simple events playing on simple emotions, but they are crafted so beautifully that all I could do was sit back and marvel at what my eye was taking in and feel more and more like I was a part of this world.

The only complaint I can level at Gake No Ue No Ponyo, and it’s not even a complaint, is that the ride stopped. To discover a Miyazaki world is to discover a world like no other and I never want that discovery to end. The child in me comes out and says hello to the adult and both sit back, one with his juice box and the other with his carbonated water, to let this new fantastical world wash over them. The effect of a Miyazaki film is to create harmony within the viewer, to bring out that which we have forgotten and enrich all that we have learned. If you wonder why I think he is the greatest director this planet has ever seen, I can only point to that sort of effect as my answer. Gake No Ue No Ponyo is but another in a long line of Miyazaki master works that warm the soul while inflaming the imagination.





9 responses to “Review: Gake No Ue No Ponyo (Ponyo, 2008)

  1. Oh, I’m so gay for your reviews. This is one of your best. And I still have yet to review a Miyazaki film since I’ve only seen one. “Howl’s Moving Castle”.

  2. Thanks man, and you definitely need to get on seeing more Miyazaki, I can’t recommend the man enough.

  3. edgar chaput

    ‘I’m so gay for your reviews’ Interesting crowd you’re attracting Bill.

    I think I’m warming up to Miyazaki the more I think of the two I’ve seen (Spirited Away and Something Moving Castle). I should check out Something Totoro, Something Delivery Service and Ponyo.

  4. edgar chaput

    I agree that this a particularly well written review though. I guess that happens when one enjoys a film so much.

  5. I always attract interesting crowds Edgar, my ability to be gay without actually being gay brings lots of folks in. 🙂

    You should definitely check out more Miyazaki, you know how I feel about him.

    Thanks for the kind words, and you are definitely correct, it’s far easier to write about a movie I loved than it is one I hated or find average.

  6. Miyazaki’s the man and it takes skill to make a Little Mermaid remake not be childish and lame. Not quite up to snuff with Mononoke, but I really liked Ponyo a lot. Good review, hope more people get around to seeing this.

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  9. It’s not on the same level as Mononoke, but it’s great in its own way.

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