Miyazaki broke it West world big time in 2001 with the release of his Academy Award-winning Spirited Away. Whilst he was a significant force within the world of animation for years before, his devout bunch of followers suddenly grew tenfold when Chihiro hit the big screen in an attempt to bring her parents back from the bizarre world of the spirits. Focusing on a truly inspired heroine, Miyazaki turned Alice In Wonderland on its head with striking images, beautiful characters, intriguing plot developments and a truly interesting insight into the world of Japanese culture. Audiences ate it up and Spirited Away became a significant link between the animation world and adult cinema goers that perhaps only Pixar had managed to establish.
Whilst Princess Mononoke, Porco Rosso and My Neighbor Totoro had all been successes, particularly in Japan, it wasn’t until Spirited Away that the majority of filmgoers found Miyazaki’s catalogue and it would prove a huge step in gaining him a regular audience and Western release schedule for his subsequent films. Howl’s Moving Castle was released in 2004 and while it didn’t achieve the success of Spirited Away it maintained the following Miyazaki had gained. It too went on to be nominated for an Oscar for best animated film eventually losing to Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.
Missing out on an Oscar nom this time round, in an incredibly tough year for animated films, with his latest, Ponyo, Miyazaki once again embarks upon the narrative retelling of a Japanese folktale. Ponyo is a goldfish who, in seeing the human world, leaves the restricted world of her father’s underwater castle and in doing so begins a potentially catastrophic turn of environmental events that could ruin the very human world, of which she wants be a part, irrevocably. Mending the wound sustained by a boy, Sōsuke, as he tries to help her, Ponyo is mistakenly assumed to have been kidnapped by the human world and her father begins the process of summoning the help of the wave spirits to bring Ponyo back to him. As Ponyo and her father argue over her desire to become human, Ponyo, in turn begins to develop into a young girl as a result of her licking the blood from Sōsuke’s wound and attempts to return to the human world with the use of some of her father’s stored magic. This causes great changes in the environment and the threat of tsunami rings large as Ponyo attempts to be reunited with Sōsuke and his mother, Lisa.
There are two significant things we learn from the English-dubbed version of Ponyo and that is that Miyazaki is a master storyteller and visualist and that when it comes to Miyazaki everyone in the world wants to be involved. The English-speaking cast is mammoth in talent and power and it’s a relief to point out that apart form the babblings of Leachman, Tomlin and White, which don’t always work, the casting is pretty spot-on. Fey is pitch-perfect here as Lisa and she had the most difficult role as it is Lisa who reacts so violently in her speech-patterns and line deliveries. Somehow Fey pulls it off and suggests that, yes, she is without doubt one of the most intelligent and capable talents going around at the moment. Blanchett is also suitably regal and Cyrus, with relief, not annoying as Ponyo.
In the end there is a slight sense of the illusive about the story and it’s not clear whether it’s a simple culture difference or a lack of something in the film’s telling, however, it remains irrelevant as by the film’s end Miyazaki has done it again. Ponyo is another fine entry to his small but masterpiece-like canon.