Miyazaki’s latest animation, “Ponyo” reaches an American audience, quite successfully too, making it #9 in the box office charts for its opening weekend (August 14-16) and soon will be available on DVD.
Recurring throughout his work, we find again themes of people’s relationship to nature, of the exploitation and carelessness of the industrial world, and of the necessary balance between man and the earth – or here, more specifically the ocean. It casts powerful nature spirits and a genius recluse rebel gone overboard, too angry at humans, also characters one might expect in a Miyazaki film. His themes may remind of ancient Japanese animistic spiritual beliefs as they convey an awe and reverence for the forces of nature – the forest, the ocean, the animals…
It starts as a visual dance set to Joe Hisaishi’s music– a mysterious and beautiful underwater world unfolds, flowing to the music. And we meet the rebel magician who has set himself aside from humans, disgusted with their filth. He lives in a ship of his own design with his fish-human daughters. He is not entirely an evil wizard, he has something of a dreamy poet too.
Only the children and the elderly live in nature’s rhythm, are attentive in the film. The mother is good-hearted but crazed with the rush of modern living, driving fast, constantly rushed. But Sosuke contemplates, lives in his child pace and notices Ponyo in the first place. Only one of the elderly women notices the human face of Ponyo.
What sets this film apart from his other ones mostly is its innocence. While Miyazaki still conveys a message of the necessity of balance with nature, he delivers it in a gentler way than in some of his previous films, making it in the reach of children as young as five or six.
Children in the US are not exposed to very many foreign films. While no animator compares with Miyazaki, what about Michel Ocelot (Kirikou, Princes and Princesses, Azur & Asmar) or Jacques-Remy Girerd (La prohétie des Grenouilles, Mia et le Migou)? At least, the Emperor’s March was a success. In a world where we claim to embrace diversity, be the melting pot, and children are now taught multiple languages from early childhood, there seems to be a lack of direct exposure to other cultures.