The latest animation by Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki was released on August 15, 2009, in North America. Miyazaki's best-known works include Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime 1997), which holds Japan's highest-grossing film record, and Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi 2001), the first anime film to be nominated for and win an Academy Award. Miyazaki, however, refused to collect the award at the ceremony, explaining later that he "didn't want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq." In 2004 Miyazaki adapted the fantasy novel Howl's Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones; this movie (Hauru [End Page 363] no Ugoku Shiro) also an instant success, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2005. Ponyo won the esteemed Japanese Academy Award for Best Animation for 2009.
Compared to multilayered films by Miyazaki such as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo has a simpler plot. The film tells the story of a goldfish who wants to be human. Brunhilde, daughter of sea goddess Gran Mamare and wizard Fujimoto, lives with her numerous sisters and her father in a submarine. Curious about the world above the sea, she lands on a jellyfish and starts her journey for the unknown world. She is stranded on shore and rescued by Sosuke, a five-year-old boy who lives in a house on the cliff. He names the goldfish "Ponyo" and promises to protect her forever. In the meantime, Fujimoto realizes that Brunhilde/Ponyo is gone. Eventually he finds her and takes her back under the sea. However, it is too late: when Sosuke cuts his finger on broken glass, Ponyo heals his wound by licking it, and the taste of human blood has made her yearn to be human. Back in the ocean, Ponyo defies her father, and she uses his magic to transform herself into a human and escape to the surface. This use of uncontrolled power, however, unleashes a heavy storm, causing a tsunami. Riding the waves, Ponyo searches for Sosuke, and they eventually reunite. The tsunami scene is the climax of the film; dark waves with eyes leap over one another and eventually submerge the town. Ponyo's wish to become human and to be with Sosuke has disrupted the harmony of nature; as a result, prehistoric sea creatures start to swim above the flooded village, the moon leaves its orbit, and satellites fall from the sky like shooting stars. In the end, Ponyo's mother, Gran Mamare, intervenes and announces that if Sosuke passes a test, Ponyo can live with him as a human, but if he fails, she will turn into sea foam. Sosuke is then asked if he still loves Ponyo even though she is a fish. When Sosuke assures Granmammare that he loves Ponyo no matter what her form is, Ponyo's magical powers are taken away and she is allowed to remain with Sosuke and his mother as a human being.
Miyazaki's latest work can be considered a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid." But for producer Toshio Suzuki, the only similarity is that both narratives feature a female ocean creature that wants to be human. Suzuki specifies that Miyazaki's story is not about abjection and Christian self-sacrifice. The little mermaid's quest for an immortal soul has become a quest for love and companionship. Miyazaki's Ponyo is a film about love and joy. In this sense, it is also quite different from Disney's The Little Mermaid film, in which conventional gender roles and patriarchal ideology are strongly reaffirmed.
In Ponyo there are no deep and complicated villains or protagonists. Fujimoto, with his long hair, earrings, and dandy look, is an older version of the wizard Howl of Howl's Moving Castle. He may appear like...