Ponyo (2008)

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

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A fish turns into a human thanks to the love of a young boy, Sōsuke, in the deliriously cheerful, optimistic, kind Ponyo.  Before becoming “Ponyo,” the fish is Brunhilde and lives underwater with her father, Fujimoto.  She declares her intention to become a human, but worried that she’s been kidnapped Fujimoto will use the power of the ocean to find her.

Though ostensibly the villain, Fujimoto has his reasons.  He points out that the volatile, rising tides are caused by the suddenly very close moon’s gravitational pull, an imbalance caused by Ponyo’s sudden transformation.  This leads to a large storm and rising sea levels, turning Sōsuke’s hilltop home into an island, basically my childhood dream.  The water in this animated film is crystal clear and widely appealing.  This is the world 8 year-old me would’ve loved to play around in.

After one particular storm, Sōsuke and Ponyo will track down his mother at the retirement home where she works.  They will journey down under the water where a giant air bubble has been cast around the retirement home and where the Goddess of Mercy awaits.  There is some more magic and rules to explain which I have neglected to mention, and the point is that Ponyo is given the opportunity to turn into a human so long as Sōsuke can love her enough.  He says he’s up for the challenge.

It’s a happy ending.

So Ponyo is a magical fairytale about a father and daughter and a mother and son.  Putting the magic aside, there is a good deal of time spent on how magical it must feel to an adult to be a child and to a certain respect for elders.  Next to Ponyo and Sōsuke there is Sōsuke’s mother and three recurring elderly characters.  Other than that there are few noteworthy characters in the film.

This sets up an inter-generational dynamic, then.  The adults playfully indulge the spirit of the child, and the child looks up to them for a certain kind of guided leadership, which he trusts them to provide.  Basically everyone is sincere and trying their best out here, even the potentially over the top villain who is really only concerned for his daughter’s well-being.

It’s a heartwarming story set in a mystical little world that you probably won’t mind spending 90 minutes in.

Up Next: Das Boot (1981), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)

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