Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Fish and Her Boy

Last night we saw Hayao Miyazaki's latest movie, PONYO. The film shows that Miyazaki is not interested in repeating himself, no matter how much his fans want him to do so. PONYO doesn't look quite like anything Miyazaki has done before. As befits its story, told from the point of view of a child, the movie looks like a storybook come to life, with the pastel-texture of the backgrounds so palpable that you expect chalk dust to come off on the characters. He also allows in the influences of other artists. Fujimoto, the long-haired, ascotted underwater scientist, looks like a cross between a Peter Max print and a Dr. Seuss drawing, while Gran Mamere, Fujimoto's lover, looks like an Alfonse Mucha poster or a Maxfield Parish illustration.

As for the story, it's appropriate that it's Miyazaki's first work about the sea. Like an ocean, the film seems simple on the surface, but becomes more complex and rich the deeper you delve into it. Much of the story is left unspoken, leaving the viewer to connect the dots -- as befits the perspective of the child protagonists, who view great events without understanding everything that's happening. For instance, there are probasbly volumes of backstory that could be told about five-year-old Sosuke, his sea captain father, and his mother Lisa, who live on the house up on a cliff; but it's not spelled out.

There are Miyazaki constants that show up in the story: The strong female protagonists (of several different generations); the meeting of the mundane and the fantastic; the ambivalent view of technology, viewed as both wonderous and threatening; the environmental concerns; and the fascination with everyday life, whether with a storm-tossed sea (in which the waves are literally alive) or the magic of instant ramen.

PONYO shows the role that two-dimensional animation can still play in a world where computers can bring to life that which hitherto existed only in the imagination. There are emotions and visions that 2d animation can potray more vividly than can either computer animation or live-action. Especially when the story is told through the eyes of a child. Or a magical goldfish.

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