Miyazaki’s ‘Ponyo’ closes LAFF

Posted by · 11:12 am · June 28th, 2009

Hayao MiyazakiI’ve come to the awkward, “I’m the only one” conclusion that, despite my best efforts, the cinema of Hayao Miyazaki just doesn’t paddle my boat.

Looking back over the animator’s past works again throughout the week in preparation for this write-up, and having taken in his latest, “Ponyo,” just a few weeks back, I still find myself struggling to maintain an interest in these films.  “Ponyo” is probably more in line with “My Neighbor Totoro” or “Kiki’s Delivery Service” than the director’s more ambitious fare, but it nevertheless represents an imagination that, despite my aversion to the work, is a welcome dose of creativity in a business sorely lacking it year after year.

“Ponyo” is a loose adaptation of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” though Ariel’s mermaid has been swapped for Ponyo’s gold fish and there isn’t a villain within earshot.  But a narrative lacking an antagonist is par for the course for Miyazaki, perhaps one of the reasons I never warmed to his work but still a brazen way to go about visual storytelling business.

The film will open in the U.S. on August 14 on more screens than any Miyazaki film to date.  Disney (along with producers John Lasseter, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy) is aiming to move the domestic box office needle for the first time on one of the filmmaker’s endeavors.  Typically a hit throughout the rest of the word, and certainly in Asia, Miyazaki has continuously struggled to find an audience here in the States.  His first brush with any sort of awareness was the 1999 Miramax release of “Princess Mononoke.”

Miyazaki is also making his first trip to San Diego’s Comic-Con International next month, where he certainly has a number of fans remaining from his manga days.  But frankly, I don’t know that his trend of fiscal failure here in the States will be bucked come August.

“Ponyo,” though full of motion and life, isn’t the event film it needs to be to register for new audiences.  It will surely make more money for the sheer amount of screens, but I don’t know if it’ll be a “hit” per se.  Perhaps a bigger release platform for “Spirited Away” could have made more than a scant $10 million in 2002 if it ever reached more than 700 theaters.  That film probably remains the most imaginative Miyazaki effort to date (though, still, not for me).

I have the most respect for those examples from Miyazaki’s portfolio that stretch the limits of expectation and imagination but also seek out intriguing truths.  “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” “Castle in the Sky” and “Spirited Away,” for instance.  But I still remain on the outside looking in when it comes to this filmmaker, a fact I accept with a heavy heart.  In simpler terms, I wish I could be there with you.

But I’m not, so…onward.

“Ponyo” will close the Los Angeles Film Festival tonight at 6:30pm at the Wadsworth Theatre in West Los Angeles.

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11 responses so far

  • 1 6-28-2009 at 11:31 am

    Bing147 said...

    As a huge fan of Miyazaki, Ponyo did next to nothing for me and I thought the ending was terrible. Big fan of almost every movie he’s made, heck, I’ve nominated 3 of his films for Best Picture (including the hugely underrated Howl’s Moving Castle) but Ponyo, though a nice ride and pretty enough, was just okay for me.

  • 2 6-28-2009 at 2:30 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    You are not alone. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all is how I feel.

  • 3 6-28-2009 at 3:32 pm

    andrew said...

    “Seen one, you’ve seen them all”


    Yes because Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Porco Rosso are all SO similar, I mean if I closed my eyes and just listened to what was going on, then I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from one another.

  • 4 6-28-2009 at 3:41 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Porco Rosso is one of my favorites. I like that it’s so removed from the rest, but there certainly is some validity, however slight, to what Chad is saying.

  • 5 6-28-2009 at 3:47 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    The plots may differ, but my reasons for not being swept away are always the same.

  • 6 6-28-2009 at 3:57 pm

    andrew said...

    I’m not talking about plots so much, and yes there are recurring themes, however I still can’t grasp the idea that they would all have the same effect. Maybe I’m blinded by my love for Miyazaki but each of his films have been a different gem for me to enjoy even if they may all have a little gold.

  • 7 6-28-2009 at 6:03 pm

    Christian said...

    I’ve always loved the films of Miyazaki. I really hope that Ponyo can live up to his previous works. From what I’ve seen so far I’m not expecting something with the density of Mononoke or Spirited Away, but it still looks terrific as far as I can tell.

    I must say that in a way what Chad said if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, is true. But then again some people enjoy the worlds in which Miyazaki creates, and while they may all have similarities, the plots are different and each film is filled to the brim with imagination. I applaud Miyazaki for making films that are not only entertaining, but also manage to touch something deeper beneath the skin of moviegoers.

  • 8 6-29-2009 at 5:52 am

    G1000 said...

    I so want to see this flick!

  • 9 6-29-2009 at 6:04 am

    head_wizard said...

    I have to agree so far none onf his films have really wowed me. I never got what was such a big deal about Spirited Away, his best I saw was Princess Mononoke. But despite this I still plan on seeing Ponyo I figure he has got to get me at some point and with Pixar doing its best in years maybe this will be a good year for animantion

  • 10 6-29-2009 at 11:28 am

    JC said...

    You’re not alone, Kris. Miyazaki is one amongst numerous artists out there that I admire more than I like.

  • 11 6-30-2009 at 11:18 pm

    John Y. said...

    Oh, man, Miyazaki is one of the best. “Ponyo” is lesser Miyazaki, no doubt, but it’s still such a charming, richly animated tale. My personal favorites are “Howl’s Moving Castle” (vastly underrated) and “Princess Mononoke,” although I have yet to come across a Miyazaki movie I didn’t like. His films are like waking dreams for me.