Calling all anime fans – Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film Ponyo will be in Israeli theatres starting July 30th, a full two weeks before its US release on August 14th. The more serious anime devotees, like Raz Greenberg, an animation scholar and writer I met at the screening, who has a Hebrew website dedicated to Miyazaki, will surely have already seen the movie in Japan. Greenberg, who majored in East Asian Studies at the Hebrew University, says that he was able to understand about 80% of the Japanese dialogue. For the benefit of non-Japanese speakers in the audience, Ponyo will be released in two versions in Israel: dubbed Hebrew and Japanese with Hebrew and English subtitles.
Greenberg compares this film to Miyazaki’s earlier “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989), saying of “Ponyo”: “We can see his interesting angle on family life – the father figure is always marginal and ineffective. The mother always has a far more important role in the development of the plot. However, in both the two earlier movies the main character is a girl and here it is a boy. I haven’t quite decided what I think about this character yet.”
Unlike “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Ponyo” takes place primarily in the real world with “touches of fantasy” as Greenberg puts it. The meeting of different worlds here is in the contrast between land and sea, which is reflected in the art work of the film. Working solely with hand-drawn animation, Miyazaki has created a visually enticing film that succeeds in showing that distinction in the quality of the images: the scenes on land have a sharper edge and more defined strokes, like a pencil drawing while the water scenes have a watercolor effect to the images.
Greenberg says that in his opinion it is “the most optimistic movie Miyazaki has made in the past 15 years.” Reminiscent of “The Little Mermaid” in it’s plot structure, the movie takes the conflict to a happier, more innocent conclusion that makes it suitable even for younger children. Yet there is much for adults to enjoy in the film, even those who are unaccompanied by minors. The underwater scenes that open the film are about as close as you would want to bring a small child to a psychedelic experience. The film is so beautifully rendered, and the visual language so expressive that subtitles are not really necessary in order to follow the plot. Just watch and enjoy.