Saturday, 15 August 2009

Film review: Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea (****1/2)

With Hayao Miyaksaki's latest arriving in US cinemas this weekend, I thought I'd repost my Venice review for anyone who didn't read it first time around.

There aren't enough superlatives to adequately describe Hayao Miyasaki's latest masterpiece, a delightfully sweet, extraordinarily imaginative Little Mermaid-esque children's fantasy that begins as it means to go on with a sequence of such astonishing colour and spectacle and creativity that it affixes a smile to one's face that remains firmly in place for the duration of its 101-minute running time.

Five year old Susoko lives by the sea with his mother Lisa who works in the local old people's centre. (His father is a ship's captain who seems permanently at sea.) One day, while playing by the shore, Susoko discovers a small goldfish whom he names Ponyo. But Ponyo isn't just any fish. Having escaped from her sorcerer father's underwater lair and after sampling a few drops of Susoko's blood from a cut on a finger, some ham, and a dose of his love, Ponyo decides to become human, the consequences of which put not only her life at risk but those of Susoko's entire community.

Armed with such a simple narrative, Miyasaki orchestrates a riot of bright colour and unbridled imagination, populating his triumphant, idiosyncratic vision with a plethora of charming characters and whimsical sea creatures that appear to have sprung wholly into existence from the mind of a five-year-old with a particular fondness for prehistorical monsters. There are nods too to environmental issues and a sly, subversive streak, plus a peculiarly Japanese sense of morality (Susoko's mother drives her car way too fast, often putting herself and her son in jeopardy, and has a fondness for cracking open a can of beer when stressed) but this is another memorable and wondrous film from an animation master who, aged 67, is at the peak of his game.