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Ponyo Steelbook [Blu-ray + DVD]
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Animated adventure by the Japanese anime studio Studio Ghibli, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's story 'The Little Mermaid'. When a feisty baby goldfish/mermaid called Ponyo (voiced by Noah Lindsey Cyrus) runs away from her home in the sea, she ends up stranded on the shore and is rescued by Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), a human boy who lives on a nearby clifftop. Ponyo yearns to become human herself so that she can be with Sosuke, but many obstacles stand in her way. Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Lily Tomlin and Liam Neeson lend their voices to the English version of the film.
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Oscar Award winner Spirited Away is a remarkable fantasy adventure film quite unlike any other. It tells the story of Chihiro, a headstrong 10-year-old girl, who’s family have unwittingly strayed into the Land of the Spirits. Chihiro must use all her energy to overcome her fears and join an epic battle for her family’s freedom.
While their mother recovers from an illness, Satsuki and her little sister Mei get away from it all in an idyllic rural retreat. Far from the bustle of the city, they discover a mysterious place of spirits and magic, and the friendship of the Totoro woodland creatures. My Neighbour Totoro is a masterpiece for the whole family, a feel-good tale of childlike wonder and true originality.
Grave Of The Fireflies
This extraordinary animated film is set in Japan during World War II and follows Seita and his little sister Setsuko as they struggle to survive after their mother is killed in an air raid. Directed by Isao Takahata, Grave of the Fireflies is a visually stunning and emotionally powerful film that meditates on the devastating consequences of war.
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Find your next Ghibli adventure on the Official Studio Ghibli Amazon Store. From fairy tales such as Totoro to the Oscar Award winning animation Spirited Away, there are films for every generation.
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The art of Ponyo is more organic than previous Ghiblis. Ghibli knows its animation but Ponyo is a cut above even the excellent artwork of Howl's Moving Castle. The hand-drawn approach provides a much more authentic set of animation than complex 3D achieves. Lines are not straight in real life, and in Ponyo this is clearly apparent. The background art is luscious and well-pitched. The people are engaging to look at - the children in particular move like children. The animation of the power of the wave is just the most incredible depiction of motion.
The plot based partly around that wave holds even more resonance now. Tsunami is a Japanese word and it is one that the world has come to fear. Some of the culture that surrounds it is reflected in Ponyo. Sailors understand what they have to do to survive it, those who have experienced it on land before know to dread it, and the concern it raises plays into the lifestyle those who may be exposed to it live.
Central characters Sosuke and Lisa live in a port town. They live on a cliff and that is in part because it is safe from the highest of tides. Sosuke is the main protagonist in the film, resucing Ponyo early on and then doing everything he can to protect her. As a 5 year old boy, Sosuke is an exceptional character. He is solemn and honourable like most young boys are. His word is his bond and he just about understands concepts of duty. Sosuke is clearly Japanese but much of his mannerism can be recognised anywhere.
Sosuke is always trying to be helpful. He treats the senior citizens with respect but also as human beings. Sosuke attempts to keep his family harmonious when his father realises he will not be back at port as early as expected while his mother Lisa expresses her unhappiness. Sosuke has the purity of thought to appreciate Ponyo both as a fish and as a girl, having wonder for the creature and friendship for the girl. His responses to the world around him feel authentic, he is not cynical and he deals with what he understands. It is a characterisation of real excellence. Not many of the Ghiblis are about boys though Sosuke is extremely well crafted.
Part of the reason that Sosuke works so very well as a character is that some of those around him are a little unusual. His mother Lisa is extremely passionate and well-meaning. She drives like a maniac and she has a lot of fun with her son. The angles at which she holds Sosuke when she hugs him are beautiful. Lisa is self-reliant and generally happy. She is an uplifting example of a strong woman charged with the difficult task of looking after her family and looking after the senior citizens she works with.
The most original character is of course Ponyo. As a variant on Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, Ponyo is the sea creature fascinated by the lure of living a life among humans. Escaping from the bubble she is kept in by her father Fujimoto, she finds her way by chance to Sosuke and admires humanity so much she tries to become human. As a 5 year old human girl she is utterly adorable. She bounces around the screen with real curiosity, exploring a world she is only just understanding. It is such a fantastic depiction of that stage of childhood. The sparkling interest in the world is in part reflected by her magic. She can for instance turn a toy boat into a real one. The creative imagination of children is wonderful.
Ponyo's father Fujimoto is a slightly stranger character. He is the main antagonist, seeking to return Ponyo back to her bubble. He is the protective father who will do terrible things to keep his girl from harm. In Fujimoto's world view that harm includes the harmful world of humans. He abhors the pollution humanity creates and the scene where he strides through the waves only to be knocked on the head a few times by trash is really funny.
Fujimoto's main weapon though is the tidal force. The wavelets he drops are small but they rush forward and grow larger and more threatening. It is jaw-droppingly impressive animation. Not only is it visually beautiful but it shows the power and process of the tsunami in a strikingly simple and effective manner. The addition of eyes to the waves is a moment of unadulterated genious.
The minor characters are nice enough. Ponyo's mother references the Devonian era which is perhaps a little deep for this particular film but instantly places her in time and authority. Sosuke's father Koichi is a sailor and though he does not get a huge amount of screen time, the scene in which he, Lisa, and Sosuke relay code in lights to spell out words is laugh out loud funny.
The combination of outstanding imagery and superb characters is great. In addition, the plot is strong and incredibly sympathetic. The simple world of 5 year old Sosuke is expanded by the arrival of Ponyo. With her great enthusiasm, the two share a close bond of friendship. Ponyo's move from sea creature to human brings with it serious consequences though as it is accompanied by a tsunami. It is hugely poignant and the fragile nature of Japan's eastern coast becomes a paramount thought. Even without that more recent real-life tragedy, the impact of a tsunami is clearly felt. The search for a lost family member is close to heart-rending. Above all though, the plot is about the relationships the main characters have with one another. It is about the joy of being with people who bring happiness into a person's life. It is a plot of such uplifting pleasure that even the cynical would find it hard to dislike.
Commenting on the acting is probably best for other reviewers. The right way to view almost all of the Ghiblis is in the Japanese original (with appropriate subtitles). The English language voice-acting is rarely as good especially when stocked with American accents. The Japanese voice acting is stellar and the subtitles are easy to follow.
Musically, this is the best of the Ghiblis. Joe Hisashi has put together a magnificant score. The underwater scenes are stunning visually and they are stunning aurally. Hishashi's sound reflects the wonder of the fantasy environment, the feelings of the characters involved, and the intensity of the action. It is a great compliment to the animation. Ponyo also features a catchy and utterly silly theme song.
The DVD Extras on the 2 disc edition are very comprehensive. It is well worth getting the 2 disc version rathre than the 1 disc. A few of the extras cover the English language dubbing which was not of particular interest to this viewer. Still, "Bonus Jonas" is a great line. The discussions with Miyazaki are well worth watching. Miyazaki is not the stereotypical Japanese man and he exudes a humour and a rebellious streak that clearly makes his children's films work so very well. There is a substantial range of behind the scenes material featuring a set of the animators. The work culture is fascinating to observe and the interest in the slightly technical levels of detail from the documentarians is interesting in itself. A particularly thought-provoking extra is the one set in Tomonoura. It is great to subsequently discover the proposed bridge that would ruin the abundant charm of that town has been rejected.
Overall, Ponyo is a must-watch for any fan of Japanimation and for those who aren't, it is a beautiful and positive film that should be watched anyway. The Ghiblis are always great but this one is particularly special. With all the charm of Spirited Away, with greater characterisation than in other Ghiblis, and with Miyazaki's favourite themes living more in the background rather than being spelled out explicitly it is a class apart. The animation is utterly spectacular and this is truly a top notch film that stands comparison with great films in any genre. A masterpiece.
You can gather most of the plot from the trailer but this isn't a film that sells it self on riviting plot, it is designed to be heartwarming. The movie has a massive feel good factor and if you're a guy or a girl you will enjoy it. It brings that old familiar feeling of curiousity and innocence adults seldom enjoy. Just like spirited away it makes you're innerchild come back to life. It does however have one massive flaw, why the hell does Matt Damon have such a tiny role? Cate Blanchett as well! I mean I am fine with Noah Cyrus having such a big role he is a decent actor in his own way but he's nor quite as hollywood as those two. Seemed a little silly to throw away a tonne of cash and only have them play silly side characters. In Afro Ninja they had Lucy Liu and Samuel L Jackson in huge roles, but to be fair those were probably written for them. What can ya do? Great movie! Just get it!
`Ponyo' is a nice and sweet film with the usual great animation that you would expect from Studio Ghibli. The storyline is somewhat light but it is still quite fun to watch, even if you aren't of the younger age group that this film is aimed at. The English dub is just as good as most of the other Ghibli English dubs of recent years with such actors as Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Liam Neeson all doing a good job.
While it does probably lack the board age appeal of some of the other Ghibli films, `Ponyo' is still a nice sweet film that is well worth a good four stars.
The film has won several awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.
I don't want to give the plot away - but it helps to make some sense of the great 2004 tsunami to children (Japan has the longest recorded history of tsunamis). The story gripped all ages when we watched this!
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