Japanese release poster
|Directed by||Hayao Miyazaki|
|Produced by||Toshio Suzuki|
|Written by||Hayao Miyazaki|
|Music by||Joe Hisaishi|
|Edited by||Takeshi Seyama|
|Box office||US$201.8 million|
Ponyo (Japanese: 崖の上のポニョ Hepburn: Gake no Ue no Ponyo, literally "Ponyo on the Cliff"), initially titled in English as Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, is a 2008 Japanese animated fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, animated by Studio Ghibli for the Nippon Television Network, Dentsu, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Mitsubishi and Toho, and distributed by the latter company.  It is the eighth film Miyazaki directed for Ghibli, and his tenth overall. The film stars the voices of Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yūki Amami, George Tokoro, Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Rumi Hiiragi, Akiko Yano, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Tomoko Naraoka. The plot centers on a goldfish named Ponyo who befriends a five-year-old human boy, Sōsuke, and wants to become a human girl.
The film was released in Japan on July 19, 2008, in the US and Canada on August 14, 2009, and in the UK on February 12, 2010. It earned over US$201 million worldwide and won several awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.
Fujimoto, a once-human wizard/scientist, lives underwater along with his daughter, Brunhilde, and her numerous smaller sisters. While she and her siblings are on an outing with their father in his four-flippered submarine, Brunhilde sneaks off and floats away on the back of a jellyfish. After an encounter with a fishing trawler, she drifts to the shore of a small fishing town in a glass jar where she is rescued by a five-year-old boy named Sōsuke. Shattering the jar open with a rock, Sōsuke cuts his finger in the process. Brunhilde licks his wound causing it to heal almost instantly. Sōsuke names her Ponyo and promises to protect her. Meanwhile, a distraught Fujimoto searches frantically for his lost daughter whom he believes to have been kidnapped. He calls his wave spirits to recover her, leaving Sōsuke heartbroken.
Ponyo and Fujimoto have an argument, during which Ponyo refuses to let her father call her by her birth name. She declares her desire to be known as 'Ponyo' and to become human. Using her magic, she forces herself to grow leg- and arm-like appendages and start changing into a human, a power granted to her by the human blood she ingested when she licked Sōsuke's finger. Her alarmed father forces her to change back into her true form and leaves to summon Ponyo's mother, Granmamare. Meanwhile, Ponyo, with the help of her sisters, breaks away from her father and inadvertently uses his magic to make herself fully human. The huge amount of magic that she releases into the ocean causes an imbalance in the world, resulting in a tsunami, leaving ships stranded at sea. Ponyo goes back to Sōsuke, who is amazed and overjoyed to see her. Lisa (Sōsuke's mother), Sōsuke, and Ponyo wait out the storm at Sōsuke's house. Worried about the residents of the nursing home where she works, Lisa leaves to check up on them and promising Sōsuke that she will return home as soon as possible.
Granmamare arrives at Fujimoto's submarine. Sōsuke's father, Kōichi, sees her traveling and recognizes her as the Goddess of Mercy. Fujimoto notices the moon appears to be falling out of its orbit and satellites are falling like shooting stars, symptoms of the dangerous imbalance of nature that now exists. Granmamare declares that if Sōsuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and that the order of the world will be restored. A still-worried Fujimoto reminds her that if Sōsuke fails the test, Ponyo will turn into sea foam.
Sōsuke and Ponyo wake up to find that most of the land around the house has been covered by the ocean. Since it is impossible for Lisa to come home, the two children decide to find her. With the help of Ponyo's magic, they make Sōsuke's toy pop pop boat life-size and set out across the swollen ocean.
When Ponyo and Sōsuke make it to the forest, however, Ponyo tires and falls asleep only to be woken by Sōsuke, who implores her to ignite a second candle as the one powering their boat is about to go out. Ponyo then dozes off multiple times before concentrating enough to make the candle, which then goes out. She then passes out, and Sōsuke has to push the boat to shore, only to find that the boat, deprived of Ponyo's magic, is reverting to its toy size. Sōsuke drags Ponyo to the shore, where he finds Lisa's abandoned car. Ponyo then wakes up, and the two decide to continue looking for her.
Ponyo and Sōsuke head into a tunnel. Inside Ponyo reverts to being a fish due to overuse of her magical powers. Meanwhile, Lisa and the residents of the nursing home, who are temporarily able to breath water because of Granmamare, are waiting excitedly below the surface for Ponyo and Sōsuke to arrive. Sōsuke and Ponyo encounter Fujimoto, who warns the boy that the balance of nature is in danger and begs Sosuke to return Ponyo to him. Sōsuke doubts Fujimoto and attempts to flee, but the two children are quickly captured and Fujimoto takes them down to the protected nursing home.
Sōsuke is reunited with Lisa and meets Granmamare, with whom Lisa has just had a long private conversation. Granmamare asks Sōsuke if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sōsuke replies that he "loves all the Ponyos." Granmamare then tells her daughter that if she chooses to become human once and for all, she will have to give up her magical powers. Ponyo agrees to this, so Granmamare encases her in a bubble and gives her to Sōsuke. She tells him that kissing the bubble will complete Ponyo's transformation. The balance of nature is thus restored and the previously stranded ships head back to port. Fujimoto respects his daughter's choice to become a human, having decided he can trust Sōsuke with Ponyo's welfare. Ponyo then joyfully jumps high in the air and kisses Sōsuke, completing her transformation as a human.
- Yuria Nara as Ponyo, the daughter of Fujimoto and Granmamare initially named Brunnhilde. Ponyo is voiced by Noah Cyrus in Disney's English adaptation.
- Hiroki Doi as Sōsuke, a five-year-old boy and the son of Lisa and Kōichi, attending Himawari Elementary School ("Himawari" is the Japanese word for sunflower.) Frankie Jonas provides his voice in Disney's English adaptation.
- Tomoko Yamaguchi as Lisa, a caretaker at the Himawari House. Tina Fey provides her voice in Disney's English adaptation.
- Kazushige Nagashima as Kōichi, Lisa's husband and a captain of the Koganeimaru. He is voiced by Matt Damon in Disney's English adaptation.
- Yūki Amami as Granmamare, a giant being named the Mother of the Sea. In Disney's English adaptation, her voice is supplied by Cate Blanchett.
- George Tokoro as Fujimoto, a sorcerer who holds a resentment against humans. Fujimoto is not a villain, but rather an overly protective and xenophobic father for whom the more he tried to intervene the more he pushed his daughter Ponyo away. Miyazaki considered this to be common among Japanese fathers in this day and age. In Disney's English adaptation, Fujimoto is voiced by Liam Neeson. Tokoro also provides the voice of the Suigyo, Fujimoto's wave-like minions.
- Rumi Hiiragi as the Young Mother, a young woman in her 30s. In Disney's English adaptation, her voice is supplied by Mona Marshall (who is credited for the role).
- Akiko Yano as Ponyo's younger sisters
- Kazuko Yoshiyuki as Toki, a powerchair-using resident of the Himawari House. In Disney's English adaptation, she is voiced by Lily Tomlin.
- Tomoko Naraoka as Yoshie, a resident of the Himawari House. In Disney's English adaptation, her voice is supplied by Betty White.
- Akiko Takeguchi as Noriko, a resident of the Himawari House. In Disney's English adaption, her voice is supplied by Cloris Leachman.
The cast also includes Tokie Hidari as Kayo, a resident of the Himawari House and formerly a career woman as a youth, voiced by Marsha Clark in Disney's English adaptation; Nippon Television announcer Shinichi Hatori voices The Announcer, a television news reporter who relays information about the hurricane; he is voiced by Kurt Knutsson in Disney's English adaptation. Emi Hiraoka and Nozomi Ōhashi voice Kumiko and Karen, attendants of Himawari Nursery School; their respective English voice actresses are Jennessa Rose and Colleen O'Shaughnessey, who are also credited.
Hayao Miyazaki, the film's director and writer, said his inspiration was the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Little Mermaid," but his inspiration was more abstract than a story. Along with animation director Katsuya Kondo and art director Noboru Yoshida, Miyazaki devised a set of goals which included to use traditional animation entirely in Ponyo, pursuing the animation and art possibilities without struggling under the demands of the production schedule, showing the quality of Yoshida's artwork as well as celebrating the innocence and cheerfulness of a child's universe. Production of Ponyo began in May 2006, while key animation of Ponyo began in October of that year.
Miyazaki was intimately involved with the hand-drawn animation in Ponyo. He preferred to draw the sea and waves himself, and enjoyed experimenting with how to express this important part of the film. The level of detailed drawing present in the film resulted in 170,000 separate images—a record for a Miyazaki film.
The seaside village where the story takes place is inspired by Tomonoura, a real town in Setonaikai National Park in Japan, where Miyazaki stayed in 2005. Some of the setting and story was affected by Richard Wagner's opera Die Walküre. The music also makes reference to Wagner's opera. The character of Sōsuke is based on Miyazaki's son Gorō Miyazaki when he was five. Sōsuke's name is taken from the hero in the novel The Gate by famous Japanese novelist Natsume Sōseki.
The film was released by Toho on July 19, 2008, in theatres across Japan on 481 screens—a record for a domestic film. As it had beaten Pocket Monsters Diamond & Pearl the Movie: Giratina and the Bouquet of the (Frozen) Sky: Shaymin (which had opened on the same day). It grossed ¥10 billion ($91 million) in its first month of release, and a total of ¥15.0 billion ($153.1 million) as of November 9, 2008.
Tokyo Anime Fair chose 'Ponyo' as Animation of the Year of 2008, as revealed in a press release by Anime News Network.
Ponyo was released in the U.S. and Canada on August 14, 2009 by Walt Disney Pictures and The Kennedy/Marshall Company, opening at a wide release at 927 theaters across America, which is by far the widest release for a Studio Ghibli film ever in the U.S, as compared to other Miyazaki films (Spirited Away opened in 26 theaters, Howl's Moving Castle opened in 36 theaters, and Princess Mononoke opened in 38 theaters).
The film's English dub was directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis and Peter Sohn of Pixar and produced by Frank Marshall, Hayao Miyazaki, John Lasseter, Steve Alpert, and Kathleen Kennedy; the English script was written by Melissa Mathison.
In July 2009, there were multiple pre-screenings of the film in California. Miyazaki traveled to America to promote this film by speaking at the University of California, Berkeley and the San Diego Comic-Con.
Ponyo's eponymous theme song, "Gake no Ue no Ponyo," was released ahead of the film on December 5, 2007, performed by Fujioka Fujimaki (a duo consisting of Takaaki Fujioka and Naoya Fujimaki who are known for their underground band Marichans from the 1970s) and eight-year-old Nozomi Ōhashi. It entered the top 100 on the Oricon Weekly Charts on July 14, then rose to 24th on (July 21), then 6th on (July 28), and after the release of the film it ranked 3rd (August 4). By the end of 2008, it was ranked as the 14th highest selling single on the Oricon Yearly Charts. Ōhashi was also the youngest participant in the 59th NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen, beating Cute's Mai Hagiwara's record at age 11. Afterward, Ōhashi announced her unit with Fujioka Fujimaki was disbanding.
An English-translated pop version of the theme was recorded by Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus, the voices of Sōsuke and Ponyo in the North American dub, to tie in with the film's English release. The theme plays over the second half of the English version's closing credits; the first half is merely a translated version of the theme rather than remix.
The film score of Ponyo was composed by Joe Hisaishi, Miyazaki's regular collaborator. The score album, published on compact disc in Japan by Tokuma Japan Communications, in South Korea by Pony Canyon Korea and throughout Europe by Germany-based label Colosseum, received a great deal of press in the West, including positive reviews from several veteran film music reviewers.
Ponyo has received widespread acclaim from film critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported a 92% "Certified Fresh", based on 162 reviews with an average score of 7.6/10, stating "While not Miyazaki's best film, Ponyo is a visually stunning fairy tale that's a sweetly poetic treat for children and Miyazaki fans of all ages." Metacritic reported a Metascore of 86 based on 29 reviews, signifying "universal acclaim".
On its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, it made $3,585,852 on 927 screens, which is a per screen average of $3,868. It also opened at number nine at the United States and Canada box office. In the United States and Canada the film made a total of $15,090,399 at the box office. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as a DVD/Plush Toy pack, on March 2, 2010.
The Japan Times gave the film four out of five stars, and praised the film's simple thematic elements and its visual scheme, and compared the film to Miyazaki's classic animation My Neighbor Totoro.
Anime Diet cited the quality of the translation, noting, "The story and the core of the film was communicated more than adequately through the professional dub and it did not get in the way of the sheer delight and joy that Miyazaki wanted to convey." Citing "slight pacing problems," it gave Ponyo a rating of 88%. The pronunciation of Japanese names in the English cinema version varied between characters, however.
Critics at the Venice International Film Festival generally had high praise. Wendy Ide of The Times said Ponyo "is as chaotic and exuberant as a story told by a hyperactive toddler," and gave it 4 stars out of 5. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a full four stars, the highest rank on his review scale, stating that, "There is a word to describe Ponyo, and that word is magical. This poetic, visually breathtaking work by the greatest of all animators has such deep charm that adults and children will both be touched. It's wonderful and never even seems to try: It unfolds fantastically."
Ponyo was an entrant in the 65th Venice International Film Festival. It received a special mention in the Bologna Future Film Festival, for "the high artistic and expressive quality of animation able to give form to wonderful imagination of the worldwide cinema master".
In 2009, Ponyo won five awards at the 8th annual Tokyo Anime Awards. The awards included "Anime of the year" and "Best domestic feature". Miyazaki received the award for best director and best original story, and Noboru Yoshida received the award for best art direction.
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