Ponyo on a Cliff by the sea

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Postby bakamatt » Fri Aug 14, 2009 4:01 pm

I actually think I had a better time at Ponyo than I did at Howl. Though that's kind of damning it with faint praise, because my expectations were fairly low.

Good stuff:

Pretty, of course. Occasional images of wonder.

A fair number of chuckles.

The axe-grinding is pretty much confined to the first few minutes.

A nostalgic, retro look.

Unquestionably foreign. Characters' ability to take in stride magic and marvels instead of demanding reason of the universe is often charming and entertaining.

So-so stuff:

A rather mediocre cast. I think my favorite character was Sosuke's mother.

Not-so-good stuff:

There's almost no story, and what there is, is poorly implemented. Ponyo's father is a pivotal but inexplicable character (who apparently shares a tailor with Willy Wonka and Sgt. Pepper). He seems to have assumed responsibility for keeping the oceans "in balance" but is instead working on a long-term project to unbalance the hell out of them. Sosuke is obliged to succeed at at "great test" in order for Ponyo to be able to stay with him; I was never at all clear what that test was, unless it was to walk through an ordinary tunnel. The townsfolk are curiously undismayed to have their homes submerged, instead treating it as an excuse to party. And many another, lesser, niggle.

I was absolutely glad to see it, and have no intention of buying it. And I guess I'm going to have to go back and watch Howl again; I haven't seen it since the theatrical release.
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Postby EveryNameTaken » Fri Aug 14, 2009 10:00 pm

ZeroRyoko1974 wrote:I am having transportation issues right now. If that gets cleared up, I would like to go


Crap! I completely missed your post. Sorry about that. :( Went to see it today.

Sketching out some thoughts here about Ponyo. I'll start with what I Tweeted just a few minutes ago, and meander from there:

Ponyo was Miyazaki on a bad day, but then again, I'd bet every other director wishes they had 'bad days' like Miyazaki's. Let's plow through the weak points first. Plotting was never really Miyazaki's strong point- even some of his best films feel a little long at around an hour and half- and Ponyo has an especially weak script. The dialouge was often very flat, though obviously, I can't tell you how much of that is Pixar's dub. The story itself starts off weak, catches a lot of steam halfway through, and then just dies once the ending happens. It's very anti-climatic.

I've seen every one of Pixar's dubs, and I'm pretty sure this one ranks as the worst yet. It's not bad, but it's flat. There's no fizz- it sounds like some of these celebrities came for the paycheck, and the ADR director never pushed them to try harder. Unsurprisingly, the younger brother of a talentless pop band had no business being in the voice actor's booth- lines that required Frankie Jonas to show some emotion or sorrow would be deadpan. Surprisingly, Noah Cyrus nailed the part of Ponyo. Tina Fey was the one I was really looking forward to, but listening to the dub, you couldn't tell it was her at all. Lisa sounds nothing like Liz Lemon, and she seemed to have trouble delivering some of her lines. And why did Cate Blantchett sound faintly... Russian? German? What was up with that accent? It didn't help that these actors had to work with some real non-sequitors in the script. There's probably no effective way to deliver: "That goldfish has a face. Now get in the car, honey." That's not a quote, but a good approxiamation- if anyone has a quote written down, please tell me.

If you've watched a lot of Miyazaki, you're going to be feeling deja vu over and over again. Some of my favorite sequences was Lisa driving her car up the cliff to her house, including a memorable chase sequence midway through. The car is a Beetle that drifts across sharp turns- just like the Fiat 500 in Castle of Cagliastro. Ponyo's father looks like the illicit lovechild of Howl and the witch from Spirited Away. Ponyo sometimes looks like a human mini-Totoro, especially when she grins while shapeshifting.

I'm the kind of guy who will hate something if it has a rotten script- read my review of Afro Samurai: Resurrection to see me piss on it for just that reason. But even with a bad script, Ponyo has charm. The character herself is just fun to watch: she's a budding young goddess who uses magic to shapeshift, whip up tsunamis, and cure colds from babies. She can move a crowd- the kids in the audience love her. Lisa is a fun character, even though she feels like the most wasted potential in the entire show. Whatever happens to her realationship with her husband, who we never see come back home, is anyone's guess. Bakamatt is right about Ponyo's father- his development was just too sudden, and really, he was a bit of a stereotype. Sosuke is a weaker character, but still charming. He's so precocious, so it actually makes some sense that a five year old could fall in love and navigate a boat to rescue his mother. Of course, the visuals are mesmerizing, especially midway through, when the ocean comes to the tops of the cliffs and ancient fish that should have been long extinct swim through the sunken town. (More deja vu there for people who have seen Future Boy Conan).

I dunno. When I started writing my thoughts down here, I felt pretty positive about the movie. Now I know that it's my least favorite of Miyazaki's movies, and when I get around to writing the actual review, I'll probably like it even less. It's sad, because it would be a nice film with memorable visuals and characters- if it wasn't for the fact that we should expect much better from Ghibli.
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Postby bakamatt » Sat Aug 15, 2009 10:12 am

Someone ought to have said something about the music - I meant to, but forgot.

Joe Hisaishi, of course. And by and large pretty good stuff, worked well with the visuals. But I often found myself thinking it was overproduced - full orchestra when just a few instruments performing the same music would have been more appropriate - it's hard for a full orchestra to sound sprightly or whimsical.
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Postby EveryNameTaken » Sat Aug 15, 2009 11:29 am

bakamatt wrote:Someone ought to have said something about the music - I meant to, but forgot.

Joe Hisaishi, of course. And by and large pretty good stuff, worked well with the visuals. But I often found myself thinking it was overproduced - full orchestra when just a few instruments performing the same music would have been more appropriate - it's hard for a full orchestra to sound sprightly or whimsical.


QFT. The music got pretty over-bearing at times.

By the way, how do you guys mark spoilers?
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Postby Kokon Tozai » Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:20 pm

Good reviews & info, I enjoyed reading them. I had planned to catch Ponyo this weekend but it turned into a ?help mom around the house? marathon. Now that I?ve read these posts I don?t feel so bad about missing it.

I?ve only seen Princess Mononoke & Howl?s Moving Castle & I much prefer the former to the latter. Now HMC was special because it was in a real theater with good company, Matt & Rita. But honestly it just seemed too bland or gentle to me to really get into. I enjoy a lot more in anime then intense action or sci fi stuff so I don?t need something over the top to get me interested.

When I read the above critiques I think Ponyo would also be too tame to keep my interest. I?m not opposed to seeing it but I think this will wait for Bassment viewing.
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Postby bakamatt » Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:46 pm

For fun, my favorite Miyazaki is Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro. For weird, hands down Spirited Away.

And it looks that's never going to change.
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Postby EveryNameTaken » Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:51 pm

For me, it's a four way tie between Mononoke-hime, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Castle of Cagliostro.
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Postby ZeroRyoko1974 » Sun Aug 16, 2009 6:08 pm

Totoro, Spiritied Away, Kiki, Nausicaa, and Mononoke are my favorites. Mononoke was the first one I saw in a theater. I loved it so much, I dragged my Disney is great and can do no wrong friend along to watch it a 2nd time. He was pertty amazed, and really enjoyed it. Although not Miazaki directed, my favorite Ghibli title would be Whisper of the Heart. I just have a thing for slice of life stories, but it is still a great film. I saw Lupin III CoC not long ago, and it was ok. I was never a big fan of Lupin, so I wasn't overly enthused to watch it, but it was a good film
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Postby TectonicMuse » Thu Aug 20, 2009 1:27 am

Spirited away and Totoro were my favorites. I don't remember much of mononoke, it's been a while since I've seen it. If anyone's got it, I'd love to see it again sometime.
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Postby ca_jas » Sat Apr 17, 2010 12:36 am

Um, rather late to the game here but I finally got a chance to watch this after it was released on DVD. I wanted to comment to disagree/agree with a few of the other comments:

-I'm glad someone touched on the music because that was my least favorite part of this movie! But I'm not an orchestral fan anyways.

-there were comments on there being not much plot but to me this is a movie similar to Totoro which if I remember had an even thinner plot. Since I liked Totoro I could appreciate Ponyo all the same

-Miyazaki I find is actually very good at pacing the plot. This movie was slow but it still followed his formula of having 15 "scenes" altogether. I don't know how to explain that but in an interview I read a long while back he explained the process. Ponyo's problem using this method was that every "scene" looked the same so the movie just viewed like one big chunk. Monoke and Spirited Away followed this the best because each "scene" contained something new; either new scenery, new characters, or new plot twist.

Overall I really liked the movie. It was simple, very visually beautiful, and had a cool mom character (kid nearly flies into the ocean and she just casually grabs his leg like it happens all the time, probably some cultural reletivity there.)
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