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Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea – Review August 7, 2009

Posted by Cello in Anime Reviews.


Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is more Totoro than Princess Mononoke. It’s aimed more towards the younger crowd, but still so visually amazing and mindblowing because Ponyo was done completely with traditional hand-drawn animation. Miyazaki proves that 3D animation is never a replacement for 2D, just an alternative. Miyazaki’s consistence as a director and slow, methodical mastering of a genre that he has regularly redefined means that any new material of his is now treated as an event rather than a mere release. But this, and other Miyazaki megahits, are anything but lowest common denominator entertainment. Even though his heroines are usually in their early teens or younger, their adventures unfold in rich visual and narrative sequences, with everything from personal memories and contemporary environmental concerns to ancient Japanese mythologies and fantastic European cityscapes tossed into the mix.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is an enchanting film which tells a beautiful but simple story. The story begins as Ponyo attaches herself to a jellyfish and slowly rises to the surface of the ocean. Ponyo is nearly caught up in a fishing net, and nearly dies when a glass jar gets stuck on her head. Ponyo is rescued by 5 year old Sosuke, who resides on a cliff above the ocean and promises to protect her always. Eventually, Ponyo’s sorcerer father manages to recapture his wayward offspring. But Ponyo, both a willful child and an ungovernable force of nature, rebels against her father’s wishes and dreams of living among humans. She uses the magical powers to transform herself into a human and returns to the surface to seek out Sosuke.


I doubt Ponyo will garner the same acclaim as Spirited Away; but little kids will eat this stuff up. The rich symbolism and the shadowy frisson of threat in, say, Spirited Away is more or less absent from this film. Like I said before, the story is extremely simple. Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy (and vice versa), and they try to overcome all odds to stay together. Along the way, Miyazaki dispenses small nuggets of wisdom, just the right size for fidegty kids and jaded adults, without being too preachy.

However, this is another memorable and wondrous film from an animation master who, at age 67, is at the peak of his game. U.S. moviegoers can check out this film in theaters August 14th, 2009. I don’t throw the word “genius” around lightly. With Ponyo, it becomes clear that not only does Miyazaki appear incapable of making a film that is anything less than revelatory, but that as he approaches the old age of 70, he is still making films with the exuberance and passion of a young man. Ponyo, the magical film will definitely cast an indelible imprint in the minds of all who will watch this beautiful creation. Rush to the theaters to see this one.



1. somekindofmuffin - August 7, 2009

I’m really looking forward to seeing this

2. Bartleby - August 8, 2009

You beat me to reviewing this one. I’ve got a review in the works for tomorrow. I really liked it, but it didn’t quite amaze me like some of his other work has.

The animation is beautiful and well-detailed. Most of it is very imaginative, but for the first time I just really didn’t connect with the story. I know, I know. Totorro has little more than an outline for a story, but it connects with us emotionally; the girls are worried for their mother and they are cared for and comforted by these strange, exotic forest critters. It works because it is simple.

I think the extreme youth of the characters in Ponyo hurts the ‘love story’. That and Ponyo is barely a character. Not alot of actual love there, just two kids hanging out and what not. Even platonically, that angle seems weak.

Everything else is lovely, and the whole thing feels like a storybook. There’s tons and tons to love, and I agree, Miyazaki is as talented and wise in his artistry as he ever was.

To think, the man announced retirment after Mononoke and has gone on to make Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and now Ponyo in that time. He has yet to miss.

3. inkcaravan - August 9, 2009

Sounds fantastic, I’m there.

I have to admit I do have a soft spot for animation. Having spent years working in the industry, I guess that’s no surprise! And Miyazaki is one of my favs.

BUT, the man is such an inspiration to anyone who worries they’ve left their career run too late. His work is heart felt and exuberant and this one looks like it has all of his wonderful trademarks in spades. Breathtaking!

Great post Marcello!

~ Alisa

4. Phear - August 11, 2009

I’m honestly incredibly excited for this film, but unfortunately, it’s taking a back seat this week for me as District-9 is being released the same week! Ouch!

I definitely plan on seeing it as Miyazaki’s work is beyond brilliant and he knows how to inspire even the faintest of emotional responses amongst his viewers, no matter what age bracket.

5. glothelegend - August 13, 2009

I just recently watched this, and I must say that, even though it is aimed at a younger crowd, and I am 21, I thought it was awesome. Miyazaki is just amazing. The animation was stunning. I wish that Miyazaki could live forever. Every movie he makes proves to be awesome.

6. lastmidnight - August 29, 2009

I watched this a couple weeks ago, and I have to say it let me down. I agree the film itself was absolutel breathtaking as all Miyazaki films are, but a 5 year-old boy at the center of a love story was just too much for me to handle. I have to agree with Bartleby that the whole love thing seemed weak.

7. xou422 - September 9, 2009

I like your blog. Really creative. I shall subscribe.

8. KellyGreen17 - January 11, 2010

Great review! I love this line: “With Ponyo, it becomes clear that not only does Miyazaki appear incapable of making a film that is anything less than revelatory”. I felt Ponyo was so magical and I just can’t get it out of my mind. It is like Miyazaki’s work imprints on your soul!!

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