Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo On The Cliff” (2008); An Early Screening Review

Miyazaki in the earlier panel; the afternoon.As if being able to meet Miyazaki isn’t enough, we all got invited to a free screening of Ponyo On The Cliff. The only catch being that you do have to rush there and wait in line for the screening. There were only 200 seats available and I was lucky enough to be among those. Miyazaki introduced the movie and had quite a few things to say.

Miyazaki told us that an important instruction he gave for the staff was that “Draw things as simple as you can but draw as many things as you want. Don’t feel limited.”

Ponyo on A Jellyfish

Within the hands of such a talented team, led by such a focused director as Miyazaki himself, these words brought about very impressive results. The drawings are all very masterfully executed; they become economical and effective instead of being compromised by this instruction. Instead of arbitrary renderings, each line conveyed the maximal and there is practically no excess. Everything was crisp, clean and precise. These were very smooth animation, full of subtle touches of life and weight. The colors were gorgeous to behold, never overwhelming, always calming yet exciting.

Miyazaki also said that they used close to no computer assistance for the visuals of Ponyo, he stated that in today’s age, he has noticed that the computer is slowly taking over, that people are no longer using pencils or brushes to draw. He said that it was a conscious and active decision to avoid 3d animation or computer-assisted graphics even more because of this trend, adding the statement that the computer has the ability to creep and take over an artist’s mind… and ruin it. Thunderous applause was heard after he finished this statement.

Sasuke meets Ponyo!

I’ll be upfront with you, this is one of my favorite Ghibli films already because of several strong vices of mine they fed generously: hand-drawn frames, endearing attention to relationships, strong focus on creation themes, myth & theories and just breathtaking situations. The visuals are warm, inviting and yes, breathtaking. Literally breathtaking because I’m an absolute nut about underwater sceneries and there hasn’t exactly been an animated film feature to live up to my expectations for underwater sceneries.

Breathtaking, yes.

The backgrounds throughout the entire film shows signs of a loving, human touch. I watched this on the big screen and I was able to see the pencil strokes, color pencil hatchings, watercolor marks, and soft brush strokes lovingly communicating the mood, the air and the feel of the charming little town our male protagonist, Sasuke lives in. When I said breathtaking, I’m not joking; the scenes where Sasuke held his breath and peeked into the water, I couldn’t help holding my breath instinctively… hoping I’d also be in peeking into such a rich world. I won’t spoil the rest of these many breathtaking moments Hayao Miyazaki and his team have provided us.

Those expecting an “epic adventure” Princess Mononoke or Castle In The Sky, you should know that this is a lot calmer and low-key in action but nowhere less captivating. It’s just as immense and dense in just how much symbolism is packed into the movie. To be honest, I’m quite happy I’m no longer a kid when I saw this and that I was able to take in most of the symbolisms. This film would still be a great one to take young audiences to because it’s attention to the little things in life are what fascinate kids: discovering how things work for the first time, absorbing/digesting/rejecting the behavior of your elders, learning new words to attach to things one loves and dislikes, a clear love/respect/fear for nature & the impossible.

It’s instinctively interesting to a kid and rich in feeling to an adult who’ve had treasured their childhood in simple joys.

Ponyo in a bubble...

There is a rich, rich, rich attention to old creation mythologies, sea tales and particularly to the concept & traits of fertility goddesses and fatherly deity figures, the visual theorized stages of evolution is shown through Ponyo’s very own transformations. Those familiar with ancient fishes and ancestors of life as science knows it will be in for a treat. All this tied into the relationship parents, children and a close-knit society could have… with the heartwarming story Ponyo shares with Sasuke. It’s a great, full circle… drawn beautifully by hand. It was of great joy for me to follow Sasuke through his day and meet the people he spends time with regularly; no matter how much or minute that time is.

Ponyo’s an immensely beautiful film, in the hands of any other directors, it would be a plain, simple film but in the capable hands of Miyazaki this was a pure and perfect film. To sum it up, Miyazaki said one of the best praises he heard about the movie was that when a 5 year old called her grandmother and told her that “Grandma, I’ve just watched a movie made by another 5 year old!”

During an earlier conversation in the day.

I absolutely loved this film and to have been able to enjoy it with added personal notes by the director beforehand added up to be a very fine friday.

Posted Saturday, July 25th, 2009 under Artists, Film.


  1. “Draw things as simple as you can but draw as many things as you want. Don’t feel limited.”

    “the computer has the ability to creep and take over an artist’s mind… and ruin it. Thunderous applause was heard after he finished this statement.”

    It’s so inspiring to hear such sentiments spoken so openly.

    The man certainly does not mince words, and I love it. He’s completely straightforward. He’s not playing any sort of political game. He’s not trying to bully or seduce you into his way of thinking, he’s just speaking his mind. And he’s so dang respectable and dignified that you can’t help but cheer for him!

    What a wonderful way to be introduced to a wonderful film!

    Also, thanks for treading lightly over the plot details! I appreciate your spoiler free thoughts on the film! Awesome post Weigy!

  2. I just saw this film on DVD (the R2 DVD from Japan is out now), and I loved it. I agree completely with your comments. This is one of my favorite Ghibli films now.

  3. I just saw Miyazaki in Berkeley. The interviewer guy kept on talking about Ponyo and mentioned a bunch of spoiler type materials, Gawd Damnit

    a few good questions though.

    On Chinese and Korean Animation, if they will be competition in the future

    Miyazaki says, the difference between the one giving money and the one receiving is a superior and inferior position, Chinese and Korean animation cannot be a peer to Japanese if they only do grunt work.

    Miyazaki also says that Totoro was designed with the idea that
    “make his eyes look like you can’t tell what he’s looking at”
    “He is either thinking very deep or not thinking at all, you cannot tell if he’s stupid or smart”
    Nature is not understandable by humans, that’s the idea he wanted.

    The Ohmu also have that view.

    Man you know what, Miyazaki really feels like an Ohmu. Something giant and ancient, and maybe he’d feel good rampaging over some cities.

    Also, out of the two dozen new Ghibli animators, only one is a man. Miyazaki mentions that with so many strong women around now, he might have to make a movie with a boy in the lead.

  4. @Nihon: Hello! Welcome to the blog and yes! Ponyo is incredible looking. I think Miyazaki stressed the importance of making the drawings evoke the exact, right feelings instead of being satisfied on just being technically correct. I’ll definitely be waiting for the Blu-ray release.

    @Andy: It’s funny you mentioned the Ohmu-Miyazaki comparison but if I had to make a comparison between him and his omnipotent characters, I’ve always associated the deer god, The Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke with his persona.

    As for his decision to include females in the leading roles of his films, I don’t question it as much as these women are whether there are feminist motivations or such. I do admit that Ashitaka and Howl are among my favorite characters from him. They’re both very interesting archetypes everyone else have attempted but only he and a few others have pulled off. The same can be said of his other characters though.

    The Ghibli animators are mostly women; that’s an interesting but appropriate fact, somehow.

  5. It’s always slightly depressing to me whenever Americans bring up the fact of female characters in the Ghibli films. What they’re really communicating is not the presence of strong females from Miyazaki or Takahata, but its complete absence here. Hollywood is overwhelmingly obsessed with capturing the attentions of 13-year-old boys, and it shows. But that’s one of those topics where I wind up writing endless essays on my blog.

    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Ponyo. I’m glad that you didn’t rehash the plot or get into specifics, but shared your own thoughts and impressions, of what you brought to the conversation.

    It would have been great for me to be able to ask questions and spark some discussions with Miyazaki and John Lasseter and everyone else in the hall. The questions certainly would have been far deeper and probing. I think I’d either want to talk about the Toei animation films, like 1958’s Hakujaden, which inspired 17-year-old Miyazaki to become an animator (he joined Toei in ’63 after college). Or perhaps I’d like to hear his version of the famous story behind Gulliver’s Space Travels. I’d definitely want to probe into everything related to Horus, Prince of the Sun (why is anime’s Sgt. Pepper still MIA in America?). I’d definitely have to ask about the endless “riffs.”

    Here’s the ultimate Miyazaki question to ask John Lasseter – Heidi, Marco, Anne. Which one was the best, and why? 🙂

    I’m looking forward to seeing Ponyo in the theater in a couple weeks. I’m sure this was a wonderful experience for you, and I do hope you write more about Miyazaki and Ghibli on your blog. We need more Ghibli Freaks on the blogosphere!

  6. Hi Daniel, glad you enjoyed my thoughts on it. For me, for them to call Miyazaki a feminist is also to undermine the scope of his work in general. You stole the words right out of my mouth and have worded them better and kinder with “What they’re really communicating is not the presence of strong females from Miyazaki or Takahata, but its complete absence here”

    I took great care to not divulge any plot points… I know it supposedly takes away credibility from a review for me to not discuss plot points and provide proof of why it’s so damned good but that’s an indication of a well-crafted movie all throughout for me. I’d feel bad about telling anyone anything about it. I just want others to experience this film! I’m glad you guys appreciated that.

    This was an amazing experience for me and I was tearing up when I realized I might have just seen one of my favorite movies, introduced by one of my favorite filmmakers/artists of all time.

    On Hakujaden, I have been dying to watch that but have never been able to find it anywhere. As for more posts on Miyazaki’s crafts, it’ll come. Thank you for visiting and sharing your insight! Thanks for the Ghibli blog too!

  7. There is a brand-new fansub for Hakujaden available. It’s available on the downloads section @ the blog. Plenty of other essentials, too.

  8. Thank you! Ghibli forever!

  9. Very awesome insight! I like this film already. Its good to see probably the most influential animation director of all time, hold respect for traditional works. I had just this same discussion with Richmond and Melvin the other day…and I’m glad to hear it affirmed by someone who can and IS doing something about it.

  10. Isn’t Ponyo a jellyfish?

  11. I’ll need to watch the movie again to be 100% sure but as I recall, her father never really classified her as any specific kind of aquatic animal. Sosuke and movie synopses do refer to her as a goldfish. If I recall correctly, I didn’t even recall Miyazaki saying she’s a goldfish. The only thing that stuck out was Miyazaki joking that he initially designed her as a tiny frog.

    If there is any hint to be found within the name her father (Fujimoto) gave her, internet searches for “Brünnhilde” brings up a valkyrie.

    From my viewing, I interpreted Ponyo as a “life-form”, as general and non-explanatory as that may sound.

    She seems to have the potential to be anything she wishes and strives to be. Much like the very first single-cell organisms Ponyo herself consumed at the beginning of the film. She goes through her transitional leaps into her human form via proposed evolutional visual landmarks; from aquatic, to bird/lizard and then mammal/human.

    In that sense, I’ll simply call her a life-form. I wouldn’t rule out jellyfish though. Hahahah.

    Also, thanks for coming by the blog!

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