Exploring the Magic and Mystery of Studio Ghibli’s ‘Ponyo’

Exploring the Magic and Mystery of Studio Ghibli’s ‘Ponyo’
Exploring the Magic and Mystery of Studio Ghibli’s ‘Ponyo’

Ponyo is a Japanese animated fantasy film. It was released on July 19, 2008 in theatres across Japan. It was initially released in Japan as Ponyo on the Cliff. The animated film was written and directed by famous Japanese animator, filmmaker, and manga artist, Hayao Miyazaki and was animated by a Japanese-based animation studio, Studio Ghibli. It is Miyazaki’s eighth film to be made under Studio Ghibli.

On August 14, 2009, an English-language version of the film was released by Walt Disney Pictures to over 900 theatres across the U.S. The movie earned the spot as the eighth-highest-grossing anime film of all time. Many believe Hayao Miyazaki was inspired to make the film after seeing Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Ponyo Is A Fantasy


Ponyo follows the tale of a goldfish named Brunhilde and a boy named Sōsuke. Sōsuke later renames her Ponyo. Before meeting Sōsuke, Brunhilde lived underwater with her father, Fujimoto, who was a once-human wizard, and her numerous smaller sisters. One faithful day while on an outing with her father and sisters in Fujimoto’s four-flippered submarine, Brunhilde sneaks off and floats away on the back of a jellyfish. An incident occurs and she gets trapped in a glass jar and drifts to the shore of a small fishing town. Five-year-old Sōsuke rescues her.  Sōsuke then cuts his finger while shattering the jar with a rock.  Brunhilde heals the wound by licking his blood. Sōsuke promises to protect her and names her Ponyo. Meanwhile, Fujimoto searches for his lost daughter and calls on his wave spirits to recover her.

Upon returning to her father Ponyo renounces her birth name, declaring her desire to be a human named Ponyo. Magically, she begins changing into a human as a result of Sōsuke’s human blood that she licked. Fujimoto forces her back into her true form. With the help of her sisters, she uses her father’s magic to make herself human.

The huge amount of magic that she releases into the ocean causes a tsunami. Ponyo then returns to Sōsuke. Only Ponyo’s mother, Gran Mamare can restore nature’s balance and stop the tsunami. Gran Mamare also has the power to make Ponyo’s dreams come true. But she tests Sōsuke and asks him if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human and he responds that he will. She then tells her daughter that if she chooses to become human once and for all, she will have to give up her magical powers. Ponyo agrees and afterwards, the balance of nature is restored. 

The Film Features A Rich List Of Characters 


The film featured some well-known actors in both the English version and the Japanese version of the animation. Ponyo is a young and bubbly goldfish princess who desires to be human after being rescued by Sōsuke. She’s the daughter of the once-human wizard Fujimoto and the goddess Gran Mamare. Ponyo was voiced by Yuria Nara in the Japanese version and  Noah Cyrus in the English version. Sôsuke is a carefree and honest five-year-old boy who lives in a small village by the sea. He lives alone with his mother Lisa. His father is a boat captain and is always away. He first meets Ponyo when he rescues her at the shore. 

By this time her name was still Brunhilde until when he saves her by freeing her from the glass jar she was stuck in and he renames her as Ponyo. Sôsuke was voiced by Hiroki Doi in the Japanese version and Frankie Jonas in the English version. Lisa is Sôsuke’s mother. She’s 25 years old and works at the nursing home. She brings up Sôsuke on her own. Lisa is voiced by Tomoko Yamaguchi in the Japanese version and Tina Fey in the  English version. 

Fujimoto is Ponyo’s overprotective father. He abandoned terrestrial life and humanity to live among the flora and fauna of the oceans because of mankind’s disregard for nature. Fujimoto is voiced by George Tokoro in the Japanese version and Liam Neeson in the  English version. Granmamare is Ponyo’s mother and a goddess of the sea. She is voiced by Yūki Amami in the Japanese version and Cate Blanchett in the English version. Koichi is Lisa’s 30-year-old husband and Sôsuke’s father. He is the captain of a cargo ship Kazushige Nagashima in the Japanese version and  Matt Damon in the English version.

Ponyo Has Environmental Themes


One major theme that Ponyo explores is sacrifice. This can be seen in both the life of Ponyo and her father Fujimoto. Ponyo’s desire to become human is tested when Gran Mamare tells her that if she chooses to become human once and for all, she will have to give up her magical powers, which she agreed to. She was willing to sacrifice her magical powers and her life with her sisters to become human and stay with Sôsuke. Fujimoto also gave up his life as a human to live among the flora and fauna of the oceans. 

Another theme the film explores is love. Ponyo’s desire to be a human girl wasn’t only fueled by her curiosity about the surface world but the love she had for Sôsuke who was nothing but kind to her from the moment they met. Sôsuke also loved Ponyo very much and as mentioned earlier it was put to the test when Gran Mamare asked him if he could love Ponyo whether she was a fish or human and Sōsuke confirmed that he would. 

The Studio Tried Novel Techniques With Its Animation


Studio Ghibli used computer-generated imagery (CGI) in the production of previous films such as  Princess Mononoke in 1997. Ponyo’s method of animation did things a bit differently. Miyazaki hit a creative block when preparing pre-production materials and decided to visit the Tate Britain Art Museum. While there he found himself startled by an 1852 painting named Ophelia done by English painter John Everett Millais and its attention to detail. It gave him that push that he needed. 

This led to the collaboration with animation director, Katsuya Kondō. Kondō had previously directed a 12-minute short film House Hunting in 2006. The short used solid and simple lines, and largely used hand-drawn animation. On May 2006, production of Ponyo began and Kondō was given the role of animation supervisor. They implemented the use of traditional animation throughout production.

The Film Has A Significant Cultural Impact


Ponyo also addresses several socio-cultural issues. One is man’s disregard for nature which was one of the main reasons Fujimoto decided to abandon his life as a human and live amongst the flora and fauna of the oceans. Fujimoto was so disgusted with mankind’s disregard for nature that he wanted the sea to dominate the terrestrial world. The Japanese culture believes nature is sacred and should be treated as such but this is not the case in the world today with all forms of pollution causing damage to nature. The tsunami caused by Ponyo’s excessive use of magic and the damage it caused on the surface world symbolizes what can happen if humans continue to disregard nature. 

Ponyo also addressed the cultural issue of marginalization of the female gender. In the real world, the female gender is considered inferior to the male. However, this exploit does not occur in Ponyo. The female characters in the film are depicted as independent and empowered. From Ponyo renouncing her birth name despite her father’s disapproval and deciding she wanted to be human to her mother Gran Mamare who is the goddess of the sea and was the only one able to bring an end to the natural disaster.

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