Fantasy meets reality in Miyazaki's 'Ponyo'
"Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," the latest animated feature by renowned Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, has all the ingredients to become a classic: adorable main characters, a fantasy-driven storyline and mesmerizing visuals.
But the real show-stealer is Miyazaki's sophisticated talent for juggling the three components to create an imaginative, eye-opening tale for both children and adults.
The movie, to be released nationwide on Wednesday, shows the visual power of hand-drawn pictures throughout the 100-minute running time.
The story itself is readily understandable, perhaps in consideration for the younger audience who loves Miyazaki's animations.
But the way the master storyteller portrays the adventure of an often-subversive yet endearing half-fish named Ponyo (Yuria Nara) is anything but simplistic.
The story, loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's fable "The Little Mermaid," starts off with the first meeting between Ponyo and the 5-year-old boy Sosuke (Hiroki Doi), who lives on the top of a cliff in a seaside village.
Ponyo, who has escaped from her underwater home, instantly feels drawn to Sosuke, and decides to stay in the human world, prompting a search by her father Fujimoto (George Tokoro), who lives in an undersea house along with Ponyo's sea-queen mother (Yiki Amami).
Even though the movie is filled with fantastic elements such as human-like waves and ancient sea creatures, director Miyazaki sticks to realism when describing human characters. For instance, when Sosuke's mother (Tomoko Yamaguchi) returns home and opens the door with an armful of shopping bags, she uses one of her legs to pry open the door while handling the bags with her hands - and all the gestures, movements and sequences come off as deeply lifelike.
Speaking of realism, Ponyo's playful cuteness is one of the key factors that might wow children.
She often screams in a high-pitched, joyous tone, as children do in real life, and does other mischievous acts that are bound to elicit hearty laughter from the parents who are familiar with such kid routines.
Many of the characters also resemble those featured in Miyazaki's previous animations such as "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004) and "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988).
Some of the images linked to Ponyo will certainly remind audiences of Totoro, a tongue-in-cheek trick that the filmmakers perhaps designed for faithful Miyazaki animation fans across the world.
The only concern among Korean distributors of "Ponyo" was the possibility of illegal downloading of a pirated version, particularly given that the animation was released in Japan in July. The gap in release dates is long enough for a pirated version to emerge here in Korea, so the Korean distributors, at a press preview early this month, appealed to Korean users not to download illegal files.
Fortunately, the majority of Korean audiences are rightly waiting for the formal release of "Ponyo" to watch the visual wizardry on the big screen, staying away from the pirated version. After all, Miyazaki cares a lot about Korean fans. He has drawn a Korean title for the official movie poster, and the original cast members have produced a title song in Korean as part of promotional materials.
It remains to be seen whether "Ponyo" will top the previous box-office performances of Miyazaki's animated features, but what's certain is that Ponyo is a highly-memorable artistic achievement that showcases the immense delight of a magical adventure.