Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ponyo (2008)

We saw this in the theater in Japan first-run, summer of 2008, and I had a blog post all composed in my head then, but never wrote it down, because we moved a few days later. 

It was going to point out that it's a deeply flawed movie, with the Captain Nemo elements not jibing well at all with the Little Mermaid elements.  But it was going to concentrate on the fact that, despite those flaws, the movie taps into some really deep sense of awe about the sea.  The whole tsunami sequence, starting with the raging storm with little Ponyo running along on the crest of the waves and going up through the morning-after wonder of boating around on the glasslike surface of a submerged world, I found very moving and beautiful.  Miyazaki gets at something really primal there, some kind of atavistic worship of the sea and its power and its grace.  It lends Ponyo herself a kind of divine wildness that a post-adolescent mermaid might have lacked, and it powers the film way past the weaknesses in the story and, in particular, the ending.

That was more or less what I would have said.  Watching the film again now, though...  That's not what I felt.  It was hard to watch the tsunami.  For obvious reasons.  I wasn't even directly affected - all my relatives, and all their friends, were well out of harm's way.  But even so, tsunami are real to me now in a way that they weren't in 2008.  And I found myself thinking that Miyazaki probably wouldn't make this film now.  It's going to be quite a while before we feel quite that way about the sea again. 

But then that makes me think that, while Japan hadn't experienced a devastating tsunami in many years before Sendai - so that Miyazaki might have felt the phenomenon remote enough to romanticize - the world had.  The Indonesian tsunami of 2004 was still fresh in people's minds when Miyazaki started this film.  Maybe he wasn't romanticizing tsunami from a position of remoteness, but trying to create for Japanese kids a kind of fairy-tale language with which to talk about tsunami, in preparation for a day when they'd have to. 

Regardless, this film was difficult for me to enjoy this time.  The shots of Sosuke and his mom in the car, this close to being washed away, were too similar to things we saw in news from Sendai. 

Yeah.  On an intellectual level, I think I understand how fairy-tales and folk-tales once fit into people's lives, speaking their unspeakable fears for them.  But I've never before felt it.

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