Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pondering Ponyo

Ponyo (2009) is the closest thing to watching The Little Mermaid on shrooms as watching The Little Mermaid on shrooms.

Hayao Miyazaki's latest may seem more superfluous than his last, but certainly no less delightful or psychedelically spectacular. His use of color and fluid animation (Ponyo's traipsing across the tidal waves is a true feast for the eyes), his truly oddball character choices, the unabashedly childlike story that could very well have been constructed by a child; there's an inexplicable charm here that I love only a bit less than Ponyo loves ham.

It's among many things a variation on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, but in the most bizarre way imaginable -- a trippy free-for-all rendition of the Disney classic as well. This time Ariel isn't a bodacious mermaid, but a homely, human-faced goldfish obsessed with pork products, who uses her escape from the ocean as a chance to wedge herself into a little boy's life, and his mother's refrigerator.

Instead of Ponyo having a "part of your world" lusting for a Prince Eric-type, it's almost like Ponyo's parents are behind the pairing of their emphatic, shapeshifting daughter and this five-year-old boy, Sosuke, so as to spare themselves her constant neurotic screaming about things she loves ("Ponyo loves Sosuke!" - "Ponyo loves ham!" - Ponyo loves third person). Ponyo's mother, Gran Mamare, is a a majestic spiritual presence that floats along the ocean tide. Ponyo's father, Fujimoto, of whom Ponyo got more of her unfortunate genes, is a stringy, wild-eyed human who became sickened by humanity, who one day decided he wanted to become king of the ocean and thus did. His home in a solitary bubble at the bottom of the ocean is the most normal thing about him. Imagine the conception process for these two... As awkward to visualize as Ponyo herself.

By the time Gran Mamere asks Sosuke to kiss Ponyo and make her a lifetime promise to care for and love her, it almost feels like a cautionary tale: be careful who you bring home to meet the folks. It's possible Ponyo's parents were just washing their hands clean of their eldest daughter, as much as they were trying to calm the natural balance she upset by leaving the ocean. Fujimoto has always been critical of the humanity that Ponyo desires, and she's certainly not a looker. Even more painful for the couple is that her thousands of sisters are mournfully identical.

Either way Sosuke will forever regret taking that funny little goldfish with a human face home to play. Their sweet, childlike friendship becomes a confusing arranged marriage of sorts, even if at this point she does have the appearance of a (relatively) normal little girl. For as much as she declares, "Ponyo loves Sosuke," Ponyo herself seems less interested in lifelong love as she is a lifelong buffet of HoneyBaked products at her beck and call.

Eternal love could sustain you, but so could ham. Delicious, nutritious ham.

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