This past weekend, along with a close friend, I watched Ponyo for the first time. To say my feelings on the film are complicated is an understatement. This was a film I was excited to watch, as I had seen the trailers as a child, but never got to watch it myself.
I expected a film about two people from different worlds coming together as unlikely friends, and I even prepared myself for a romance. At least, I thought I did. But this movie was nothing but some strange friendship/romance between the two main characters: Ponyo and Sosuke. And much as I enjoy something that doesn’t make much sense, this movie made too little sense. I didn’t hate this film, don’t get me wrong, but it was definitely a disappointment. I’ve got a fair bit to say so buckle up. Also fair warning for spoilers if you haven’t seen it!
The film follows Ponyo, a goldfish being born of a ‘former human’ named Fujimoto and an ocean goddess. She escapes with the help of her sisters from Fujimoto, who is arguably the most interesting character in this movie. Her escape however, goes array when she gets stuck in a glass jar and washes up near the shore. Sosuke, a five year old boy stumbles across her when playing in the water.
He rescues her and takes her home, and then to school with him. He protects her from another bratty child trying to see her, and promises to protect her. To which Ponyo speaks for the first time “Ponyo… loves…. Sosuke!” now lets not even get into why I find it bothersome to watch what, at least the english version tries to portray, as some strange mix of friendship and romance between a couple of five year olds. And how bothersome it is for Ponyo who has experienced nothing outside of her fathers lair attaches herself to the first person she met outside of it. Lets leave all that off to the side for the moment and just call this a cute moment between friends.
Well, not too long after this Ponyo winds up back in the ocean and taken by her father. To which we see his plan. He wants to fill a well in his home with magic, so that eventually the entire world can turn into the ocean world. At this point I thought we got to the core plot, but no, this is never acknowledged again. In fact it makes even less sense in the context of the rest of the movie, when Ponyo using too much magic apparently harms the balance of things and nearly destroys the planet.
Which brings us to our next part. Ponyo literally completely changes herself for Sosuke. She gives herself feet and legs, winds up unleashing all the magic in the well, causing a giant storm and nearly destroying the world just to get to Sosuke again. Now mind you, she’s a child and doesn’t entirely understand what she’s doing, but that’s also kind of exactly the problem, when just after this her mother gives an ultimatum to Ponyo and Sosuke. Which earlier, when we see Fujimoto and the Goddess talk, they discuss if Sosuke does not truly love her, she will turn into foam on the sea (little mermaid anybody?) but if this does work, she will become fully human and live with Sosuke without magic for the rest of their lives. Thus essentially forcing Fujimoto into losing the daughter he desperately spent this film trying to protect.
(Which just as an aside, I desperately want to see a Fujimoto prequel. He was the most interesting part of this movie, and I want to know more of his story. What was his human life like? What made him choose the sea? How did he meet the Goddess? I’m intrigued.)
Anyhow, they give this ultimatum to Sosuke and Ponyo, telling Sosuke that Ponyo “needs a man who will understand and accept her.” my friend and I both groaned at this line. Nonetheless they accept- because of course they do they’re FIVE- and the movie ends on Ponyo turning into a human. By Sosuke kissing her bubble by the way.
I think the thing that bothers me so much about this film, is how easy it would have been to make it just a little bit more compelling. Such as, maybe expand a bit on the beginning ideas of humans being polluters of the world. Let that be something Ponyo has to discover and deal with! Or even if you’re not going to do that, just have Ponyo and Sosuke spend more than five seconds together before turning it into a story about true love conquering all. I know that they’re five, but thats also kinda why this movie is kinda disturbing with that.
Watching the ending ALL i could think was “what happens when they inevitably have a fight or something and want to go their seperate ways?” also being raised in the same household are they going to be raised as siblings now, and its a completely platonic love? Or are we going the flash’s Barry and Iris route and raising them together but they’re kind of in love? This movie left me with a few too many questions regarding well, everything.
Also, rather than making Sosuke and Ponyo the entirety of the movie, rather than Ponyo’s life revolving around Sosuke, perhaps develop her relationship with her parents? She sees Fujimoto as a prison guard more than a father, and she’s not entirely wrong, but he is desperate to protect her. Perhaps develop a bit why that is? At least have a moment where Ponyo sees him as her father?
Ultimately this film feels like it lacks any direction at all. There’s no point it’s making, it’s point doesn’t even seem to be to just laugh, it sort of just feels like things keep being added, but little actually happens.
I know I’m asking too much from a childrens film starring children, but there are certain messages in it I worry about for children to see. Such as the fact that this entire movie is what people try to claim the little mermaid was, which is a movie all about a girl joining the human world and changing herself for a man.
But mind you, for all the criticism I do have, I also did enjoy the movie at points. There were some great humor filled moments, such as Fujimoto’s first unsuccessful attempt to get Ponyo back. And ultimately there were a few moments where Ponyo, and her relationship with Sosuke was genuinely adorable.
And the artwork, as in every Studio Ghibli film was breathtaking. Their animation style never fails to blow me away.
Ultimately this is not a film I would re-watch, but it’s not something I’d exactly throw in a trash bin either. But if you want to watch a film to mainly see how pretty it is, and have little happening, then by all means this is the film for you.
Tell me in the comments, what do you think? Did you enjoy Ponyo? Was I too harsh? Or do you agree? Is there anything else you wish you’d seen in the movie?
This is Rev, signing off.