The Little Maiden of the Sea

Ponyo – Originally known in Japanese as Gake no ue no Ponyo (literally “Ponyo on the Cliff”), this was a 2009 release from Studio Ghibli. Partially inspired by The Little Mermaid (both the original Andersen story and the Disney film), it tells the tale of Ponyo (originally Brunhilde), a fish with a human-like face who befriends a boy named Sosuke and longs to be fully human. Sosuke initially identifies Ponyo as a goldfish, despite the fact that comes from the ocean. It’s an understandable mistake for a kid to make, but I’m a little surprised his mother never tells him that salt-water creatures generally can’t survive in fresh water. Not that it turns out to matter that much, as Ponyo is magical. Overall, I think this movie is geared toward a younger audience than much of Hayao Miyazaki’s work, with the fact that the protagonist is a five-year-old boy being reflective of this. When Ponyo returns to land to find her friend, it causes the entire town to be flooded, but apparently nobody dies. The antagonist, at least at the beginning of the film, is Ponyo’s father Fujimoto.

Originally a human wizard, he literally married the sea in the form of Granmamare, and the union somehow resulted in a whole bunch of human-faced fishy daughters. Fujimoto’s objective is to maintain the balance of nature, and as such has rejected his fellow humans, and expresses a desire to wipe them out. Oddly, he seems to forget about this later on the movie. He shows sympathy for the very boy who took Ponyo from him in the first place, calling him an innocent. Sure, you can hate humanity in general and still like individual people, but Fujimoto seems to undergo a massive, unexplained character shift. A possible explanation for this is the appearance of Granmamare. It appears that Fujimoto hadn’t talked to her in a long time before the events of the film, and one of her powers seems to be calming people down.

Granmamare is one of very few characters who doesn’t have a Japanese name. Instead, it’s likely based on the Latin mare, making her literally Grandmother Sea. She’s able to take both giant and human-sized forms, and is identified by one of the sailors as the Goddess of Fortune. Wikipedia identifies this as a title for Guanyin, a Buddhist deity. Well, technically, she’s a bodhisattva, or enlightened being, but I see that as essentially being semantics anyway. I kind of wish the movie had explained the mythology a little more, but I would wish that, wouldn’t I? The end has Sosuke being subjected to a test where he agrees that he’d love Ponyo no matter what form she was in, even though he’d already proven that throughout the course of the film. Ponyo has to agree to give up magic, which isn’t really a problem as she was really only using magic to try to become human in the first place, but I have to suspect Granmamare was rather short-sighted in taking away her healing powers. As with other Studio Ghibli films, the English dub used some big-name talent, with Tina Fey and Matt Damon as Sosuke’s parents; Liam Neeson as Fujimoto; Cate Blanchett as Granmamare (as someone on the IMDB mentioned, probably a callback to her earlier Mother Nature type role as Galadriel in Lord of the Rings); and Betty White, Lily Tomlin, and Cloris Leachman as the senior citizens Sosuke’s mom works with. Sosuke and Ponyo have the voices of one of the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus’ sister, respectively. One thing I kind of wish they hadn’t dubbed was the theme song. As with the one in My Neighbor Tororo, the English lyrics are pretty cheesy. Oh, and this movie also taught me that the Japanese drive on the left side of the road, unlike the Chinese.

This entry was posted in Fairy Tales, Mythology, VoVat Goes to the Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Little Maiden of the Sea

  1. Pingback: Our Lady of Mercy | VoVatia

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