It’s hard not to describe Hayao Miyazaki’s films as anything but magical. To be critical (when you’re dealing with a master it’s going to skew positive), one can only compare his best work against his minor work. But then there’s minor like Princess Monoke, which is still an epic pro-environment film, or maybe Howl’s Moving Castle, which was slightly disappointing… still great, only suffering in comparison to Spirited Away. Ponyo is one of his better films, one of the best films of last year, and another in his chain of masterpieces. What Ponyo has over his other films right now is minor: it’s the only one of his films on Blu-ray. My review of Ponyo after the jump.
A reconfiguring of “The Little Mermaid” story by Hans Christian Anderson, Ponyo is about the titular character (voiced in English by Noah Cyrus) a fish that is the daughter of the king of the sea Fujimoto (voiced by Liam Neeson in English). She sees the human world and wants to be a part of it, and gets caught by Sosuke (Frankie Jonas). The two develop a friendship, and Ponyo wills herself human after mixing some elixirs and tasting human blood. She comes to love human food, and is curious about their world, though her father does everything in his power to get her to return home. Fujimoto is mostly a worried parent, knowing that if Ponyo and Sosuke don’t love each other, Ponyo will eventually turn into sea foam. He’s also worried that her transformation will end the world, but as the soul of the ocean Gran Mamare (Cate Blanchett) says that it’s best to let things play out naturally. Sosuke’s got a mom in Lisa (Tina Fey) and an absentee fisherman father in Koichi (Matt Damon), but they are mostly loving, but it does open the door in some ways for Sosuke and Ponyo’s relationship. Ponyo is filled with magic, and there’s a quest and test to see if their love is real.
There is so much wonder in a Hayao Miyazaki film, so much great dream logic to be found in the film. And there’s such a great childlike innocence that Miyazaki can capture that never feels forced or put upon. The film is a marvel in that respect. And where the Disney version of this film offers a chaste love between teenagers (or early twenty-somethings), what makes the Miyazaki film superior in many respects is that their love is pure because it’s non-sexual. To that extent, there are no complications, no messy side effects that come with most people dealing with heartache and sexual tensions. They are children; of course they love each other. And that makes it perfect for younger audiences, but also keeps the film sheltered in an innocence of childhood.
This is also a sterling example of how Blu-ray can look and why the format is awesome. Miyazaki is a painter in his way, and the cel animation here is a marvel. And when you combine the visual splendor with the best possible format for watching a film save film itself, it makes for a striking viewing experience. The blues have such range that you can get lost in the details of the world that much more. And there is a world to get lost in here. A great one at that.
The Blu-ray comes with the DVD in a combo pack. The film is available in an English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio dubbed version, and in the original Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital with English subtitles. The film comes with an introduction (4 in.) with English dub producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall who both say they love the movie and how awesome they think Miyazaki is, and how much they love his work. The film can also be watched with the original storyboards in the top right hand frame. Then there’s a section called “The World of Ghibli,” which is broken into sections. There’s a “Behind the Studio” (42 min.) section which covers much of the Japanese making of, and Miyazaki’s use of Japanese landscapes, two Japanese trailers, and a talk with some of the American voice talent. There are also previews of My Neighbor Totoro (3 min.), Kiki’s Delivery Service (2 min.) and Castle in the Sky (3 min.), but this is mostly to advertise the recent DVD releases of these films and intimates nothing about blu-ray versions. There’s also a section in this area called “Enter the Lands, “which offers trailers for the majority of Miyazaki’s films, and brief footage from the movies.