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Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (2008; vt Ponyo); original title Gake no Ue no Ponyo. Studio Ghibli. Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki. Voice cast includes Yūki Amami, Hiroki Doi, Yuria Nana and George Tokoro. 101 minutes. Colour.

Whilst playing by the sea, five-year-old Sōsuke (Doi) finds a trapped fish whose head appears almost human. Rescuing it, he cuts his finger, which the fish licks. He names it Ponyo (Nana) and is delighted when, shortly after, it begins to speak: a bond is formed. But Ponyo is the daughter of Fujimoto (Tokoro), a Scientist/sorcerer, and of Granmamare (Amami), Goddess of Mercy and Mother of the Sea (see Gods and Demons; Supernatural Creatures); her father takes the unwilling Ponyo back to their home Under the Sea. Fujimoto sees himself as a guardian of the oceans, hating their exploitation and Pollution by the human race, so plots to return them to their Pre-Cambrian state. Wanting to become human (a process already begun by ingesting Sōsuke's blood), Ponyo escapes, but as she does so prematurely sets off Fujimoto's still unfinished Magic: the sea levels rise and revert to the Devonian era's ecology; the Moon draws closer, whilst satellites fall to earth. Granmamare explains normality can only be restored by Ponyo deciding whether to be a magical fish or a girl without magic. She chooses to be a girl.

The viewpoint of the show is very much of Sōsuke and Ponyo (see Children in SF), neither of whom recognizes the enormity of what is happening around them – the imminent End of the World. This softens the tension that might otherwise have built up. An environmental theme (see Ecology) is prominent early on, but gradually dissipates. However, the strength of mind and compassion of Sōsuke's mother, a carer for the elderly, is sustained throughout.

This is an excellent, charming film, which also has its dramatic moments – though, as mentioned above, the sense of peril is usually muted. The animation is outstanding, with the ocean scenes breathtaking – whether it be Ponyo running joyfully along the tops of immense waves formed of water spirits threatening to overwhelm the coast; or of Fujimoto's dwelling; or of the undersea world, filled with the life of the contemporary oceans, and later, of the Devonian seas. With the latter, a sense of Prehistoric SF or Time Abyss might be felt; though in this case, the era comes to us rather than – as is more usual – we go to it.

Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" (in Fairy Tales Told for Children: First Collection: Third Booklet coll 1837) influenced the story, whilst Fujimoto sometimes brings to mind Captain Nemo from Jules Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870; trans as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas 1872). The film was a considerable commercial success: as of May 2020, it was the fourth highest-grossing anime film (worldwide) of all time. [SP]


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