Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ponyo [Gake no ue no Ponyo] by Miyazaki

Thanks to several readers' comments and emails, I am now aware that Ponyo, released in the U.S. this past weekend by Disney (official release site here), is based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

Here's the description from Amazon which I found to be the best after reading several articles.

Ponyo confirms Academy Award®-winning director Hayao Miyazaki's reputation as one of the most imaginative filmmakers working today. Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid," Ponyo is a magical celebration of innocent love and the fragile beauty of the natural world. The daughter of the sea goddess Gran Mamare (voiced by Cate Blanchett) and the alchemist Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) begins life as an adventurous little goldfish. Chafing at her father's restrictions, she goes in search of adventure and meets Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), a good-natured 5-year-old who lives by the sea. Sosuke adopts Ponyo and quickly wins her heart. Fujimoto uses magic to bring her back, but Ponyo's love for Sosuke proves stronger than his elixirs. She transforms herself into a human girl and returns to him during a spectacular storm at sea, but her metamorphosis upsets the balance of nature, precipitating a crisis only Gran Mamare can resolve. Ponyo contains fantastic moments that suggest dreams-- and reassert the power of hand-drawn animation to create memorable fantasies: No effects-laden Hollywood feature can match the wonder of Ponyo running along the tops of crashing waves on her way back to Sosuke. Ponyo is closer in tone to My Neighbor Totoro than Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle, and will appeal to audiences of all ages, including small children. The #1 film in Japan in 2008, Ponyo earned more than ¥14.9 billion (over US$155 million) to become the 8th highest grossing film in Japanese history.

I also enjoyed these articles: The appeal of Ponyo, Ponyo: A Role Model For Kids With Autism? and Michiyo Yasuda makes the story colorful.

Overall, the reviews--to which I decided not to link--are positive, even glowing. However, the movie barely made the top ten in sales last weekend. I know this was the weekend for final back to school shopping for some--school resumed in my area last week--but other parts of the world are still enjoying summer break. Sounds like this movie would be a great last fling in a dark, cool theatre away from the summer heat. I know I'm curious to see the movie and compare it with the original and Disney's The Little Mermaid, too.

Red hair, it appears, has become ubiquitous to the mermaid character. It has not always been so. Look at the Little Mermaid Illustration Gallery to see for yourself.


  1. Oh, I'm so glad to see you posted this! I am a devoted Miyazaki fan. His work is just magical and it's also clear his work is heavily influenced by folk and fairy tales. (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away are my favorites!) I love that I never know quite where the story is going. Ponyo in particular was a really beautiful film and it was indeed a very refreshing and unique interpretation of The Little Mermaid and I really highly recommend it. In fact, we're going to see it for a second time today!

  2. Although it is perhaps more than what one might categorise as an influence, or coincidence – if the synopses I've read are accurate, the shared elements are unmistakable – it seems a a bit of a stretch on the part of Disney's marketing to claim that Ponyo is "based" (even loosely) on The Little Mermaid. I'm holding out for the UK release (which has now been pushed back to 2010 >_<) before experiencing this new feature but if Miyazaki's earlier ones, and the Nausicaä comic, are anything to go on, the Little Mermaid connection will be one of several elements lifted from or made in reference to literature, folklore and his and Takahata's own past works. In particular, all of Miyazaki Hayao's longer works seem to make some direct reference to the Earthsea series, most being to one same chapter of A Wizard of Earthsea.

    Though I would need to have experienced the film for myself to really say, I suspect the case may be, more than anything, that The Little Mermaid is simply the first point of reference for Europeans and their descendants when it comes to underwater kingdoms and transformations between sea creatures and humans: in Japan, it's the Japanese fairy tale Urashima Tarō, which it shares these and other elements with, that Ponyo is likened to and it also more directly references Der Ring des Nibelungen.

    Mentioning illustration galleries, I'm for once as – possibly more – interested in watching the storyboards on the home video release as I am in the finished animation, as though the latter certainly has a style of it's own (and strikes me as less of a concession to – more a celebration of – the limits of flatly-coloured cel-style animation than much of what is done in that medium) the former were, unusually, rendered by the director in full (water)colour and for me almost anything is a disappointment in comparison to the glorious freeness of the many paintings he did for this project: a few can be seen at and intermittently at and

  3. Going to add my tiny two cents here:

    Re the red hair - I think, this time anyway, it has more to do with the fact that she's a goldfish to start with - even her clothes echo her 'goldfish form' coloring. :)

  4. It also could be seen as another case of the "Pippi Longstocking" stereotype of female characters with red hair being rebellious and exceptionally determined, qualities which are presented as a positive force in both this and the Disney Little Mermaid (as opposed to the "tragic blondes" of, for one example, the 1975 Tōei film and positive at least from the point of view of someone who claims to look forward to nature's destruction of current human civilisation). It may well have been that being a redhead in her human form led to her original form being a goldfish, rather than a frog (which I've read in some interview was one of the creatures he considered before settling for goldfish; she still looks more frog than human or fish at some points) or a turtle like in Urashima Tarō.