Ponyo on the Cliff By the Sea

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Venice Film Festival, In Competition

VENICE -- The first of two feature-length animated films to be presented in competition at Venice, Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" is a refreshing thirst-quencher in a thus-far dry lineup. It is a work of great fantasy and charm that will delight children ages 3 to 100.

Miyazaki, whose "Spirited Away" won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2002, writes and directs this fantastic sea tale about a fish who yearns to become human to follow her love, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale "The Little Mermaid." Excellent commercial prospects loom.

Deep under the sea, the sorcerer Fujimoto lives in a fabulous castle where a school of sweet little red fish, his daughters, are being raised. When one daughter, Ponyo, swims off on her own, he tracks her down to a house on a high cliff. There, five-year-old Sosuke lives with his young mother Lisa while his father, a sea captain, is away. The little fish Ponyo likes Sosuke, and ham sandwiches, so much that she sprouts arms and legs to stay with him.

Excited by her exploit, Ponyo's sisters turn into giant waves that submerge the town in a mini-typhoon. The two children wake up in a watery world, and board a magical boat to hunt for Lisa and the ladies from the Senior Day Care Center where she works. By keeping his promise to love and protect Ponyo, Sosuke receives the blessing of her sea-goddess mother, allowing her to remain human.  

A contemporary Japanese backdrop brings the Andersen story closer home, while the total absence of CGI work -- the whole film is drawn by animators -- heightens the film’s childlike charm. In Miyazaki's fertile imagination, the ordinary and magical worlds blend into each other; both are full of marvels. Perhaps his most imaginative representation is the sea itself, which he transforms into a living, pulsating character. On another level, the sea can represent the subconscious mind bursting onto the land above. The tender mother-child relationship of Sosuke and Lisa, and Ponyo and her radiant Mother of the Sea, strikes a deep chord of universality.

Production companies: Studio Ghibli, Nippon Television Network, Dentsu, Hakuhodo Dymp, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Mitsubishi, Toho. Cast: Tomoko Yamaguchi, Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Kazushige Nagashima, Yuki Amami, George Tokoro. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Screenwriter: Hayao Miyazaki. Executive producers: Koji Hoshino. Producer: Toshio Suzuki. Supervising animator: Katsuya Kondo. Art director: Noboru Yoshida. Music: Joe Hisaish. Theme songs performed by Masako Hayashi, Fujioka Fujimaki, Nozomi Ohashi. Editor: Takeshi Seyama. Sales Agent: Wild Bunch. 101 minutes.

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