Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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‹ Saturday, August 15, 2009 ›

12:39:17 pm , 2128 words, 5499 views     Categories: Animation, Movie


I got to see my first Miyazaki film on the big screen last night, and it couldn't have been a better film. Ponyo is my favorite Miyazaki film in a good long time, thanks in large part to its rich and dynamic animation, which makes it a film that truly benefits from being seen on the big screen. It's one of those films that renews your faith in the power of hand-drawn animation. This is how exciting hand-drawn lines can be! the film seems to say, beaming with pride.

The film feels eminently hand drawn in any number of ways, from the patently obvious lines used to draw the characters to the storybook backgrounds to the animation of the vigorously shape-shifting sea. This film feels closest in spirit to Totoro, which has long been my favorite Miyazaki film, in its atmosphere of childlike wonder and its abandonment of the trappings of logic and common sense in favor of sheer sense of wonder and magical realism. I find that Miyazaki's seams start to show if he gets too close to reality, but his genius shines brighter than anybody in the world in the realm of pure imagination. I feel this film marks a high point in his achievement, despite feeling a bit fractured, underexplained and confused, and seeming to trail off suddenly at the end. These didn't bother me too much in light of the rich moment-to-moment texture of the story and animation. In fact, I quite liked that certain things weren't overexplained. Trying to long-windedly explain down what has just happened would not only kill all the magic, it would seem extraneous and inane. It's a rare thing for a director to be able to make a film that feels so purely intuitive, and yet remains so cohesive, entertaining and meaningful.

This was clearly a film in which the director set out to make a film that forefronted the fact that it was animated. Miyazaki has long had great respect for the films of Frederic Back, and this film feels like Miyazaki's attempt to create that kind of film - a film in which the animation was alive and voluptuous and active in every single shot. In every single shot, either the animation or the simple colorful images grab your eyes and don't let go, are the vehicle of communication. I don't think it's a coincidence that the first ten minutes or so are dialogue-free. Like the first ten minutes of the late great Yoshinori Kanada's Birth, this magnificent entry sequence prepares you mentally for a film in which the visuals are meant to be the means of communication, as they should be in an animated film.

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face watching this film. Few films have ever done that for me. I've never felt so consistently 'in the moment' in any previous Miyazaki film except perhaps Totoro. Ponyo achieves a truly sublime texture through the combination of Miyazaki's genius sense for storytelling and the technical mastery of his crew. Miyazaki is now presumably hands-off with the animation, but that only allows the incredible animators he has working under him to show off their skills all the more. Katsuya Kondo is a genius and one of the best animators in the world. Despite the usual connotation of 'sakkan' or animation director being a corrector of drawings, in this case I sense that he is in no small measure to thank for the quality of the animation in this film. His philosophy of movement permeates the animation of the characters. Among my favorite moments in the film were the moments at the beginning where Sosuke is carrying the pail of water up the stairs, and where his mother is waving at him by the portico as he leaves. These brief moments showcase Kondo's genius for succinctly capturing human movement and posing in a minimum of lines and drawings. Despite their subtlety, these shots, presumably animated by Kondo, are no less magnificent than more obviously spectacular animation of the action sequences to follow.

Water has long been one of the central challenges in animation - a challenge that when overcome can create amazing results. You can trace the history of the best water animation around the word, starting from Disney and coming full circle through to Yoichi Kotabe in Animal Treasure Island and more recently Norio Matsumoto in You're Under Arrest OVA #3 and many other places (such as Toshiyuki Inoue in Peek the Whale, Yasunori Miyazawa in Moomin, etc - see my FX post for a bit more on this). Norio is the reigning master of water animation in anime, but what's amazing is how varied are the approaches. Kotabe's approach couldn't be more different from Matsumoto's. Kotabe excels at expressing the macroscopic undulation, whereas Matsumoto's genius resides in expressing the minutiae of splashes. There are any number of ways water can be expressed, all of which together shed light on its nature. Shapeshifting water is by its nature the perfect medium for the mercurial expressive possibilities of animation. The animation here is a wonderful addition to that lineage, pushing Kotabe's style in the direction of more expressive freedom.

I can't think of a feature film with so much awesome and exciting animation of water. This is a film all about water, both in terms of the animation and in terms of the theme and of the story. Water isn't just a pretty accessory to animate. Miyazaki evokes the elemental power of water and its importance in humanity's history through the awesome, overpowering waves that lap at the land like wild animals in this film. Those scenes are among the most profound animated scenes I've ever seen in their combination of animated power and thematic depth.

Miyazaki's Nausicaa, in which water played such an important part thematically, funded a film that painted the picture of man's complex but inextricable relationship with water - The Canals of Yanagawa, directed by his comrade in arms Isao Takahata. The elemental forces of nature have always played an important role in Miyazaki's films. It's good to finally be able to see a film that tries to express the brute, majestic power of the sea the way this film does, as that's something that has never been truly done in animation. There have been films in which water played an important part - such as The Sea Prince and the Fire Child - but usually these films don't go beyond the surface level technical challenge of animating water. Miyazaki's water is mythical and elemental, and not merely a technical challenge. Although it's a cliche to say this, it's true in this case that this film is a fairy tale both for children and adults.

I think the animation of the waves during the storm was the standout achievement of this film in terms of the animation. They're animated like no other waves I've ever seen. They're not necessarily realistic. They're supernatural waves, waves of the imagination, and in that sense the expression of the water in this film is new and interesting. The way they're animated is smart, too, or more likely deliberate and calculated, because using simple, bold shapes that undulate like the goo in a lava lamp avoids the chore of having to animate the spray and foam in detail the way Matsumoto does. I remember seeing water animated this way in the Shigeru Tamura films. But needless to say, here, the water actually moves, and moves something amazing. The image of the car racing along the road by the water, with the water bubbling up into the sky in all sorts of strange configurations to the side, is unforgettable in its tension and surreal power. All of the scenes during the storm achieve a remarkable feeling of tension and imminent danger presumably because we all instinctively know the wrath of nature and the ocean. These scenes seem to me to invoke that mythic fear and reverence we've had for the ocean since the beginning of time, as first expressed in things like the Odyssey.

I liked the animation in this film because of the very specific balance of visuals they achieved. So even the scenes that weren't particularly well animated were quite enjoyable to watch as animation. But the well animated scenes were indeed magnificently animated and the highlight of the film. The central spectacle of the film is of course the storm scene, and from what I can gather, for the animation of the most spectacular sequences of the storm scene, we have to thank primarily Makiko Futaki, the Ghibli mainstay I talked about before who has long been responsible for animating natural phenomena in the Ghibli films, and Akihiko Yamashita, the ex-Bebow animator I mentioned in my last post. Together they appear to have animated many of the more impressive shots in the storm scene. More specifically, Futaki is credited with doing the bits where Ponyo is running on the fish/waves chasing the car, and Akihiko Yamashita is credited with the shots of the car in the storm, to say nothing of the amazingly detailed sequence with the trawler at the beginning.

These great action sequences rank among the best to grace any Miyazaki film, alongside Kazuhide Tomonaga's opening car chase in Cagliostro, the sword fight on the ship by Yoshinori Kanada in Nausicaa, the scene with the golem coming alive by Nakura Yasuhiro and Shinji Otsuka and the fight on the railway by Hirotsugu Kawasaki in Laputa, the bike ride by Toshiyuki Inoue in Kiki, the flight scenes by Yoshinori Kanada in Porco Rosso, the action in the fortress by Shinji Otsuka and the action in the forest by Atsuko Tanaka in Mononoke Hime, the chase through the building by Kenichi Konishi in Spirited Away, and the mid-air transformation by Shinya Ohira in Howl's Moving Castle, to name but the ones that spring to mind immediately.

There were many other standout shots besides these sequences. First and foremost, of course, is the magnificent opening sequence, for which we have veteran Ghibli participant and Telecom animator Atsuko Tanaka to thank. (refer to my post on the women behind Ghibli for more on her and Makiko Futaki as well as Megumi Kagawa, who did the scene at the kindergarten). Shinji Otsuka's running on the fence near the end was typically well timed and exciting, reminding simultaneously of his running sequences in Millennium Actress and Mononoke Hime. Probably not coincidentally, he was also given another running sequence in the film - Ponyo running towards Sosuke when they're first reunited. He also apparently did the very impressive action scene where Ponyo transforms and escapes from the ship. It's no surprise that Otsuka is again one of the main animator stars of the latest Ghibli film. He and Akihiko Yamashita stand out for having done among the most - and most exciting - animation in the film. (for more info about who animated what scene in the film, consult this post in the forum)

Needless to say, it's animators we have to thank for making the animation in this film so amazing, although you'd never know that looking at the credits at the end of the dub I saw in the theater last night. Credits are there to say what the people who worked on the film did, right? To "credit" them, so to speak? The curious thing is that, in place of credits, there's just a long list of names here. I'm not kidding. It's just a big roll of hundreds upon hundreds of names, without any credit or anything. Not only that, they abbreviate the first name. Sure, I bet most people who are going to watch the dub couldn't care less, but it's nothing less than an insult and a slap in the face to every person who was involved in this film. I've seen some botched credits in my day, but I've never seen such a travesty. "We made this film" indeed.

Aside from this glitch, the dub is fairly passable. Anime dubs have come a long way from the horrible dubs I recall from the 90s. Liam Neeson is perfect as Fujimoto, as is the child actor playing Sosuke, Frankie Jonas, although the rest of the voices are hit or miss. Needless to say, the next time I watch the film it's going to be in the original language, so that I can appreciate the film as it was intended to be seen. Even dubbed, though, the power of the animation is entirely sufficient to make the film work, so if you're hesitating whether or not to see it because of that, I'd say go for it. The impact of seeing it on the big screen easily overcomes any minor drawbacks in the dub.



Pablo Villarroel
Pablo Villarroel [Visitor]  

Aaah, I’ve yet to see this film. It has not even been announced in Chile (this is where I live). BTW, congratulations on your amazing blog/webpage, I’ve learned a lot reading about one of my favorites hobbies: animation. I actually came here looking for a review on the new 3x3 eyes OVAS (5 and 6 I think).

08/15/09 @ 15:04
Daniel [Visitor]  

I’m so glad you enjoyed Ponyo as much as I did, Ben, only makes me madder with anticipation to watch it in a cinema myself!

Not sure how word of mouth is travelling around the US with this film, I’ve heard mixed views ranging from ‘Miyazaki-sama to ’stupid Jonas/Cyrus anime shit’. For the most part, though, at least from the critics, it’s exciting to hear people embracing it for triumphant hand-drawn animation. I wonder how many Disney Channel Brats are going to be actually disappointed when they leave the cinema having seen a film of pure delight and joy rather than anything of the sort of film the garish reworked techno theme song would suggest. I hope this gets kids to realise that there’s far more to films and animated films than ‘hit in the groin’ jokes and ripe but soon-to-be mouldy pop culture references.

Despite being VERY Miyazaki and sakkan’d, the raw energy of the animation is the freshest thing I’ve seen from a film, let alone animation, for a long time, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Makiko Futaki and Shinji Otsuka’s scenes were more than inspiring than physically motivating to me, to want to be able to do something just as great.

One final question, only having seen the sub, about the ending (no spoilers btw). The film is so much to be about Joe Hisaishi’s score that I wonder if it is (obviously) substituted for anything more obviously Disney, such as in the dub for Kiki. Ponyo’s ending tableaux shot is so perfect with his music, I’m just really worried if that stupid stupid song creeps in before the credits start rolling? I really want to like this dub, and I’m confident I will, just for this minor peeve.

08/15/09 @ 16:07
h_park [Member]

I still need to watch Ponyo before I move to new place. For time being I watched “Up” twice. When you mentioned water animation, I would appreciate it if you can put a link to your post on FX animation. Since Ponyo showed off real strength of alive & kicking 2D animation, I hope Disney’s “Frog and Princess” can do the same thing.

Ben, on botched credit, doesn’t this remind you of “Chevalier” BBS post I made a while ago? This is one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to buy some US release Anime DVDs. What is up with half-ass credits nowadays?

08/15/09 @ 22:13
Leedar [Visitor]  

Um, Ben, I could be wrong, but the sub I saw had the same credits. That is how Miyazaki made them (with romaji, too). It perfectly encapsulates Miyazaki’s sentiments. Lasseter might not understand Miyazaki 100%, but he tries to respect the original content as much as possible.

I think someone said it best when they said that the film is not going to engage anyone who isn’t a child or animation enthusiast. Discarding logic has that effect.

(I saw a Japanese animated film before Ben?!)

08/15/09 @ 23:52
D.J.Z. [Visitor]  

The dub’s probably the best I’ve heard from Disney, considering that it was an excuse to continue milking the Jonas/Cyrus machine. Unfortunately, even though it caters to tweens, and has a larger theater count, the sucker’s doing abysmally right now. ;-; It’s not going to matter to Miyazaki, but the anime industry could use the extra potential buying power. Why do I think kids skipped it, because they thought it was less “hip” than the crap from DW and less flashy than the stuff from Pixar…? And yes, Ponyo is Miyazaki’s best in a long time. Spirited Away and Howl seemed to be catering too much to the teen girl demo, but Ponyo just had fun with the material.

08/16/09 @ 00:17
daniel thomas macinnes

What a spectacular essay on Ponyo. You never write enough about Miyazaki and Takahata’s Ghibli films. One of these days when the content is slow, you’ll have to write out essays on all the Ghibli movies.

I completely agree that Ponyo is an “animator’s movie.” It’s Miyazaki’s great defense of the hand-drawn art in the age of CGI. There probably won’t be any major players pursuing this form after he’s gone, so I do have this image of the Last Man Standing, of the stubborn old artist who knows the true value of his paintbrush.

I’m telling readers at The Ghibli Blog not to panic about the box-office numbers just yet. The movie opened, when?, six weeks ago? One night and everyone is acting like a Hollywood producer, declaring winners and losers. A movie like Ponyo needs word-of-mouth to grow in the US. These aren’t the brightest people, in case you haven’t noticed. “Death panels,” anyone?

I’ll have to see the movie a couple more times on the big screen in order to settle everything in my head. For me, the movie’s four main threads are 1) the romantic fairy tale for children; 2) the environmental angle, starring the Pacific Garbage Patch and Miyazaki’s revenge fantasies; 3) the personal story of Miyazaki’s marriage, of Akemi Ota being forced to abandon her career and raise their two children (Howl was really about the marriage, I believed, a Juliet of the Spirits); 4) the hand-drawn animation spectacle, animation as art, the triumph of the old-school.

I thought the Lasseter/Disney dub was excellent, but I’ll have to hear the Japanese soundtrack to compare. It felt honest to me. It didn’t seem to commit the usual Disney sins against the Ghibli films, such as flattening storylines (Mimi), dumbing down uncomfortable elements (Pom Poko), or giving away surprises (Porco). I thought it sounded great.

The remix “song” sucks eggs. Autotune is the Antichrist. This plays during the second half of the closing credits, so I just plug my ears snd get through it. I’m too busy watching the spectacular artwork and trying to spot the names. When the DVD/BD comes out, I’ll turn the volume down and be fine.

At the end of the day, it’s Studio Ghibli on the big screen in the US. When will this happen again? Isao Takahata new movie (yaayy!!!) won’t ever be shown, that’s a given. We’ll have to wait for Miyazaki’s next picture, which means a 2011 or 2012 release in Japan, then in the US a year later. And Miyazaki is 68 years old.

It’s like that Simpson’s line: “Hurry! Each Matlock could be our last!”

Go see Hayao Miyazaki on a movie screen while you still can.

08/16/09 @ 02:29
Leedar [Visitor]  

Seeing as less people have seen the original version (as it were), I’ll add that I thought the Japanese VA work was solid, but nothing special.

08/16/09 @ 05:25
AzureNimbus [Member]

Hello, Ben. I have been a silent fan for a long time and just now I decided to register after seeing your AMV’s on the other post.

I haven’t seen any other site/blog online with the same level of depth as your reviews… I learned more about the technical aspects of animation than anywhere else.

But before I could only read about it. The first time that I saw many of the scenes you were talking about was now, with the amvs.

This got me thinking.

Most of the time, coming to this site has been a delight in literary imagination, rather than reveling in the actual wonders of animation. I would pick hints and suggestions of what anime to watch next, and then it would take a while before I got to actually see it, and by then the specific points that I had read here were mostly forgotten.

I think about how wonderful and beautiful it would be if you could actually post embedded videos showing the scenes you are talking about in each post. Animation is so desperately linked to motion that it is almost a crime to sentence it to being only words. I think that if this could be possible, many people would be drawn to this site, people who are not in a level where they can read your posts and understand what you’re talking about now. Combining your knowledge and your passion with the ease of online multimedia would truly contribute to the expansion of the understanding and love of animation among the people.

Wow, that sounded way more pretentious than what I had anticipated :)

In any case, I would just like to add: congratulations for the site and the marvelous work you have done on it. I can’t say how many joys you have given me by writing here.

p.s.: Ponyo was a life-changing film.

08/16/09 @ 08:19
Ben [Member]  

Pablo - Thank you! Glad to have been of service. I hope Ponyo shows in theaters in your country some time soon.

Daniel - I’ve actually been expecting quite a bit from the film for years now, ever since I heard it was going to focus on the animated element like no Miyazaki film in a long time, and he’d enlisted all these amazing animators, etc. And I was happily not disappointed. The fish scene is truly a marvelous and unforgettable sequence that I can’t wait to see again, to say nothing of Otsuka’s scenes, and many others. Your comment about the film being very sakkan’d is quite perceptive. In a sense you could say it’s been mediated a lot by the sakkan’ing, but the animators’ power and energy still really comes through.

About the ending song, I’m embarrassed to admit that I got up and left the theater about one minute into the credit sequence because I was so disgusted by what they had done to the credits. I really felt that there was no point in even looking at the credits if their only purpose was nothing more than to meaninglessly flood the screen with a bunch of random, unidentifiable Japanese names. So unfortunately, I’m not sure about the ending song. But Daniel Tomas Macinnes mentions that the remix in question starts about midway through the credits…

If the ‘no credit’ thing turns out to have been the way Miyazaki intended it, then I’m disappointed and baffled. It seems eminently hypocritical to credit all the main folks, but not the hundreds of other people involved in the production - it’s like saying they’re all just worthless minions who don’t deserve credits. Whatever the strange reasoning may be, I can’t accept that. Even if they don’t want to be credited, I want to know who did what!

H Park - I quite enjoyed Up when I saw it. I adored the opening sequence of Up, although some elements of the rest of the film felt slightly out of place in comparison. And about the Frog and the Princess - interestingly, there was a preview for that film before Ponyo. (surprise, surprise) And I’m sorry to say that I was not at all happy with the animation. Old Disney animation was absolutely amazing. The animation I saw in the preview felt like nothing more than a hollow and soulless aping of this magnificent legacy, with every beat and facial expression feeling cliched and artificial. I hope I’m just mis-remembering. I’ll be curious to have a closer look at the animation.

Daniel Thomas Macinnes - Thanks for the comments! Glad you enjoyed it. Those were just the thoughts that occurred to me immediately after watching the film. I’m looking forward to going through what you’ve written, as you’ve clearly given it a lot more thought. Your insight about the relationship between the mother and father maybe having shades of Miyazaki’s life is interesting and hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t know Ponyo’s not doing well at the box office… quite sad.

And I’ll consider writing about the Ghibli films, although it’s kind of intimidating because such a tremendous volume has already been written. I could write some thoughts focusing on the animation.

AzureNimbus - Thank you very much for that suggestion. I will definitely try to be more diligent about providing reference material going forward. This question of whether to provide clips/images or not has actually been something that I’ve been torn about all these years: How much should I provide, and how much should I leave to the reader’s imagination? The reason for this is that part of the reason I write this blog is as an exercise to hone my ability to verbally describe animation. I find that when I succeed in doing it well, the act of exclusively describing the animation in words provides me, and hopefully readers, with some new insights about how to understand animation. Words are the only weapons at my disposal, so it’s kind of a point of pride. Of course, I probably fail more often than I succeed, as I’m not an animator or anything, and I’m just piecing things together by intuition…

Anyway, although it might not seem like it, in the last year or so I’ve actually started moving more towards providing clips and images in a targeted fashion, for example in the post on Shoichi Masuo. That’s one of the posts that I feel succeeded fairly well at doing this - providing the verbal description element, supplemented by image and video elements in the form of raw genga shots and video clips. Whenever possible, and when necessary, I plan on trying to build on that approach.

Thank you for registering, and thank you again for the words of encouragements and the constructive criticism - both are heartily appreciated!

08/16/09 @ 21:01
D.J.Z. [Visitor]  
08/16/09 @ 22:56
Leedar [Visitor]  

Here’s the final word on those credits.

Guess I was wrong about the romaji, but that’s all. Maybe I did see the Disney ‘edit’, or Ghibli made a romaji version.

08/16/09 @ 23:02
Enrico Casarosa
Enrico Casarosa [Visitor]  

I can confirm that the credits are Miyazaki San’s idea. He’s quite fond of it and he stated that his staff seems to be quite happy with it too. Three cats that live around the studio are also credited. I can see where this idea can be controversial, but it’s also kind of refreshing ….
Miyazaki drew every single one of those great little drawings by the names … and they are in some way representative of the person … that’s pretty cool I think.


08/17/09 @ 16:15
Ben [Member]  

Thank you for the input and the mention on your blog, Enrico. I adored the drawings, and I agree that the idea is very nice and different. I think it will be quite fun to pore over the names and their drawings in detail one of these days when the film is released on consumer format. I know it’s kind of weird, but it’s just that I was really excited at the thought that such a big audience was being exposed to great work by so many of my favorite animators, and I was SO looking forward to seeing their names lit up on the screen receiving recognition for their work… I would have loved to have the best of both worlds - the drawings AND the credits. But I realize that would have made the credit roll 10 minutes long, and even I often zone out during the interminable credit rolls in most movies… oh well.

Edit: For what it’s worth, I just noticed that this style of credits seems to have been first used on the Ghibli Museum shorts, judging by these images from the art books for the shorts.

08/17/09 @ 20:52
daniel thomas macinnes

Interesting that you mentioned the Ghibli Museum shorts. I caught a number of references to at least a couple of those short films. I do believe Miyazaki’s Yadosagashi’s influence on Ponyo’s art style was huge. It’s as though he used the short as a test run for the simplified cartoon style. I also noticed that the bulging waves moved with moaning sound effects much like Yadosagashi.

Oh, let’s see…there’s another brief shot that quotes the title cart of Koro’s Day Out, if the art book is any indication. That one was very sly.

Spotting all the “Ghibli Riffs” in these movies can be a lot of fun, and it seems that these tiny bits are snuck in deliberately, either for their own amusement or to give the diehard fans something to search for. It also happens to make a killer drinking game.

08/17/09 @ 21:45
Mihail Luchian
Mihail Luchian [Visitor]  

Regarding water animation - Ben, I believe it wouldn’t be correct not to mention Ohira`s waves in Otogizoushi 6. Even though it lasts less than 30 seconds, i have never experienced something more intense than his waves. Personally, I think they`re even better than his job for Animatrix.

08/18/09 @ 10:37
Trampster [Visitor]  

Just two lines to confirm what you already discovered. The credits system is the same used for Ghibli Museum shorts. I remember reading somewhere that Miyazaki thaight of it as a fair way to give everybody who worked on the movie the same amount of credit.

And for those who are planning to go to Japan soon, you have to go to Ghibli Museum. In the temporary area there’s a wonderful Ponyo exhibition, one of the best anime-related ones I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty much focused on animation, with lots of drawings, entire scenes you can animate by hand, and also a couple of videos running making-ofs of particularly difficult scenes, dealing with interaction between water and ground. Too bad those were in japanese only :) Anyway, a must see.

08/19/09 @ 02:24
Enrico Casarosa
Enrico Casarosa [Visitor]  

Ben, I totally see what you’re saying too … as much as this is a neat way of showing credits I also always want to know more about the staff … that’s why I like your blog ….:)

08/19/09 @ 14:01
Régis [Visitor]  

I finally got to see Ponyo, and it was an incredible moving experience. I’m just so enthralled by the experience in all respects: animation, design, story, character, music, etc… In fact, I really don’t understand why many anime fans or Miyazaki fans are putting this movie off, or saying it that “it’s really for the kiddies.” The themes and all the acting were incredibly sophisticated, and I haven’t seen a character as tragic as Fujimoto since Ashitaka in Mononoke Hime. The flooding obviously brought me back to Panda, Kopanda - Ame Furi Saakasu no Maki, and all the scenes with Ponyo and Sosuke in the house were so full of energy and sincerity and realism that indeed, much like you mentioned Ben, is only found in Totoro. And the score by Hisaishi surprised me greatly this time - the opening operetta is enough to tell you this is truly an allegory for now and forever.

08/23/09 @ 21:26
Nico Morrison
Nico Morrison [Visitor]  

Thank you Ben, I’d been perturbed by some of the mainstream reviews; I will be taking my grandchildren to see this on the big screen when it shows in London.

We have been helping them to learn to read by reading Miyazaki children’s book versions of films together; only afterwards do they get to see the film.

This has been a great hit, with Nausicaa an especial favourite, followed by Totoro, Kiki and Laputa. They are 6 and 4 and love the Japanese sensibility but don’t think of it as anything outside of the ordinary. How wonderful.

08/25/09 @ 21:50
bahi jd
bahi jd [Visitor]  

I will watch the movie when in comes in AUSTRIA to the big screen…can’t say much about the movie right now but thanks.
Aren’t there any non-japanese animators on ghibli?
I think it’s hard to get accepted by Miyazaki as an new and non-japanese animator.

08/26/09 @ 03:51
huw_m [Member]

I just saw Ponyo on Friday at a local cinema that was screening it in Japanese w/ subs, luckily, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face from start to finish either. Totoro is my favorite Miyazaki film as well, and I thought that the sort of rigid cinematic feel of Miya’s last film detracted from it a bit, but this one feels like pure intuition - You can see that events and the characters decisions and interactions are being guided by how Miyazaki simply feels they should be - It felt like it was revelling in its animatedness as well, with the incredibly powerful water animation, and lots of vivid movement of people running and hugging and bumping into things - The whole film was full of ‘feeling’. Loved it, and thanks for the great write-up Ben - Strangely, I wasn’t even very excited to see it before I read this.

08/28/09 @ 22:06
Ben [Member]  

Regis - I agree, it’s a wonderfully rounded film in every way, not just the animation. I didn’t get around to mentioning how the characters’ personalities were expressed through their body language, but I think the film did a great job of that. And Joe Hisaishi’s score was indeed beautiful and unexpected, as you say. I’m also kind of dismayed that many fans seem content to dismiss the film as a kiddie film. I guess it’s true that maybe Miyazaki set out to make the film for kids, but I don’t feel like it’s JUST a movie for kids. I find it more deep and heartfelt and adult than Mononoke Hime, for one, as the latter only seems like it’s trying too hard to be adult in many ways. At least here it’s Miyazaki honestly telling the kind of story that comes naturally to him. In its more heartfelt and not surface depth, it feels like the more adult film to me.

Bahi - I think you’ll love the film. At least I hope so. Hope it comes out in Europe soon. I know there used to be a French animator at Ghibli, but that was back during the Mononoke Hime days. I don’t know about now. Who can tell with the credits the way they are.

Huw - Really glad my post got you interested, and your experience lived up to my hype. I didn’t think I was hyping the film when I wrote my words. I thought I was being pretty even-headed, just honestly saying what I thought worked. Though looking back on it it fees like I was praising it wildly. ‘Rigid cinematic feel’ captures much of how I felt about his previous film. Something felt off about that film to me for a long time, but I was never sure what. I didn’t want to give up hope on Miyazaki; I knew something must have gone wrong. So I was really wanting to like Ponyo, and it exceeded my expectations, personally. With the previous film it feels like he was trying to make a movie in the conventional sense, hitting all the right buttons that people expect to see in a movie, whereas in Ponyo, as you say, it feels like his instinct carves out the dramatic structure. I read in an interview that Suzuki basically let him make Ponyo the way he wanted, in contrast, without interference, which seems to back up what I felt about Ponyo being much more instinctive and ‘high proof’ Miyazaki.

08/30/09 @ 18:56
tim_drage [Member]

Finally saw it this weekend (was holding out for a subbed screening, good old Prince Charles delivered), so good!

Good review/post but I was surprised at your reaction to the end credits, for me they it was a beautiful and amazing thing and totally Ghibli. I guess the dub version has credited US voice actors which kind of spoils the concept… I don’t think it would even be legally possible to break from the conventions of credits like this in a hollywood film.

03/01/10 @ 02:36
tim_drage [Member]

“it’s like saying they’re all just worthless minions who don’t deserve credits. “
Quite the opposite apparently: (tho yeah not so convenient for us Karisuma Animator otaku)

“The first verse of Ponyo takes 1 minute and 50 seconds. I had to force 400 of names into it, so I cut all of the position titles and just arranged them alphabetically (note: not by ABC but in Japanese style A I U E O order). Even the company names weren’t given an order of superiority. From large companies like Toho and NTV to tiny studios like Anime Torotoro, all of it is alphabetically. Furthermore, I even added the office cleaners of our studio and the nursery staffs to it. And to a space that was left open I added Shachi, Makkuro and Ushiko, the 3 cats that live in our studio who we fed too much and gotten fat. In conclusion, every staff member who saw the end credits was much pleased with it. It is a style with which nobody can complain about the order, font size or position titles. I’m proud of adopting this style and we’ll keep it in future movies. As you can see, some of the main staffs and voice actors have their names on the opening credit roll. This is because they work with their special talent and I thought they should be treated appropriately in another way.”

03/01/10 @ 05:40
Ben [Member]  

“This is because they work with their special talent and I thought they should be treated appropriately in another way.”

Heh, so much for doing away with hierarchies.

Everyone but me seems to love this method. I think I’m starting to see the light. I now think that they should have done credits this way since the very beginning in anime. That way, nobody in Japan would ever have learned anything about animators over the years, so I would know nothing about Japanese animators, and hence there would be no Anipages, which would be a good thing, because it’s extremely unfair of me to the rest of the staff to single out animators as deserving special praise. That’s what I get from this style, which is why I have a little trouble getting onboard with this.

03/01/10 @ 10:45
tim_drage [Member]

“I think Studio Ghibli is like the Kremlin.” - Mamoru Oshii :)

uhh, well at ‘the very beginning’ they didn’t have the imdb, 9 disk DVD making-of box sets, ….. :)

Anyway movie credits were never intended to help film otaku learn about who did what, they’re purely for business, union and ego purposes. And Miyazaki’s not insisting that all films be credit-less, it’s just a typically Ghibli-esque conceit for this particular film.

I can kind of see why it upset you especially since you had assumed it was some horrible Disney meddling but I can’t say it really bothers me. But then I just like any and all obtuse/absurd breaking from title sequence conventions. :)

Anyway here’s some exciting credits unless you have photosensitive epilepsy.,

03/01/10 @ 15:46
Ben [Member]  

Ah, that Gaspar Noe, what a ham. Never content unless he’s giving you a seizure, nausea or a psychologically scarring viewing experience. (though I do think that’s kind of a cool credit sequence)

03/01/10 @ 15:59