Ponyo (2008)

Owe no one anything, except to love one another;
for the one wholoves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:8

Suske and his friend Ponyo. © 2009 Walt Disney
Suske and his friend Ponyo.
© 2009 Walt Disney

Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, like those at Pixar, creates his films for adults as well as for children. His current beautifully animated tale, based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Little Mermaid,” is made by the old fashioned way, by hand, eschewing fancy computer animation. As we might expect from a Japanese artist, many of the water color painted scenes are gorgeous.

Five-year old Sosuke, the son of an oft-absent sailor, lives with his mother Lisa in a house high on a cliff overlooking the sea. One day while exploring the rocky shore he rescues a little gold fish trapped in a bottle. When he cuts his finger while smashing the glass, the grateful gold fish licks the wound, and the taste of human blood gives the magical little creature the power to become human. Naming her Ponyo, the two immediately love each other. It seems that Ponyo is the adventuresome daughter of a sea wizard father and the goddess of the sea who did not heed his advice to stay close to home.

Lisa, who works at a home for the elderly, agrees that Ponyo can stay with them. There is a storm predicted, so there is no time to check into her mysterious appearance in their lives. For some reason Ponyo’s transformation has upset the balance of nature, causing the moon to draw closer to earth,—hence the on-coming storm. It generates a giant tsunami that washes over the land. However, before this happens, Lisa, feeling compelled to return to the retirement home in case she is needed, leaves the two children, confident that her little son can care for himself and Ponyo. (I know, parents, she’d be accused of child neglect in this country, but then how would the little twosome be able to save the world?)

Through a series of harrowing adventures the children set forth, Ponyo’s magical powers changing Sosuke’s toy boat into a full sized one. And I don’t think it’s spoiling things to reveal that they do save the world. This is a truly magical tale of love and relationships that will charm young and old viewers. There are plenty of life lessons delivered, but never in a heavy-handed way.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of Hayao Miyazaki’s style in comparison to the elaborate ones of so many American animated films? How do you think its simplicity appeals to children?

2. Why do think his making the two principal characters so young would appeal to children? What do most children fantasize about? How can such tales serve as a rehearsal for roles they will assume when they grow older?

3. Although the hero and heroine are children, how does Miyazaki’s differ from many American films about children in the way that he depicts adults? No stupid or bumbling ones here, are there? Indeed, how does he make Lisa very real by the way he depicts her as reacting to the news that her husband will not be able to return home that evening?

4. What do you think of the way in which Miyazaki has adapted Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale? Note also how Ponyo’s transforming herself into a human being has disrupted the balance of nature; apparently she has crossed some forbidden line. Compare this to the biblical story of the Fall in Genesis 3:1-19.

5. How is what Ponyo’s mother does at the conclusion a moment of grace? Although the filmmaker’s mythology might not be biblical, how are much of it’s values similar to those held by Christians?