Hayao Miyazaki, the Academy Award winning director of Spirited Away (2001), returns to the magical world of childhood with his latest masterpiece entitled ‘Ponyo’. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Ponyo’ tells the story of a 5 year old goldfish girl, who lives in a magical kingdom under the sea with her parents and her many younger siblings. One morning, the goldfish swims away from home and up to the surface, getting stuck in a jam jar and washed ashore.
It is here that we are introduced to Sosuke, a 5 year old boy who lives with his mother, Lisa at the top of a cliff in Tomonoura, Japan. He sees the goldfish and, with great difficulty, manages to free her. Sosuke quickly decides to take her in and names her Ponyo. Little does Sosuke know, is that there is more to his new found friend than meets the eye.
Ponyo’s father, Fujimoto quickly finds out about his daughter’s disappearance and wastes no time in retrieving her. To Fujimoto’s chagrin, Ponyo has developed a desire to become human so he tries to restrain her, but Ponyo’s siblings help her to escape, and she returns to the surface as a human. But in doing so, Ponyo upsets the balance of nature, and without warning, a terrible storm strikes, flooding the surrounding lands.
Meanwhile, Lisa and an inconsolable Sosuke attempt to flee from an impending tsunami, pursued by Ponyo. She chases them all the way back to their house where Lisa and Sosuke take her in with welcome arms. That night, Lisa is called for duty at the nursing home where she works, so Sosuke is left in charge. Lisa promises to come back but there is no sign of her the next morning so Ponyo and Sosuke immediately set out to find her.
This magical story of love, friendship, and courage marks Studio Ghibli’s first venture into the world of childhood since ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (1988). There are references to ‘Totoro’ in this film, the most prominent being Ponyo, in human form, looking near identical in appearance to little Mei, the younger sister in ‘Totoro’. There is a lot of emphasis on friendship in ‘Ponyo’, as Sosuke is very much a loner at first, so he quickly warms up to Ponyo, particularly when she becomes human. There is also a particular emphasis on the state of the environment, as Ponyo briefly encounters a heap of human waste that has been dumped in the sea, nearly getting scooped up by the ship that is collecting the waste.
Family plays a particularly important role in ‘Ponyo’ as Ponyo goes against her father’s wishes to follow her dream, but still takes care of her many siblings, who clearly understand Ponyo more than her father does. Her mother, Granmamare is seldom at home, so Ponyo’s father takes care of her. Fujimoto has a deadly hatred for humans, particularly due to the waste they have dumped in the sea, and fears they have kidnapped Ponyo when she is taken in by Sosuke.
Sosuke is in a similar situation with his family, he is an only child looked after by his mother, as his father, Koichi is a sailor and always on duty. Sosuke therefore has become the man of the house at a very early age. He is highly resourceful and responsible for his age, and always tries to impress his mother, and come to her aid whenever she is upset, regardless of his own disappointments.
Having seen ‘Ponyo’ for myself, I can only describe it as one of the best Anime films I have ever seen. It is certainly one of Studio Ghibli’s best. I felt just like an excited child after watching it and proud to be a fan of Anime and Studio Ghibli. Even my own friends and family agreed with me. Although ‘Ponyo’ is Studio Ghibli’s take on ‘The Little Mermaid’, it focuses very much on the fragility of nature and the environment, as well as the relationship between Sosuke and Ponyo and the importance of their families. This is nothing like the 1989 Disney version. Otherwise, this is the perfect film for anyone who has small children or a passion for Anime. This is an absolute masterpiece of Anime that will delight adults and children alike.