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To Be Human

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Hayao Miyazaki may be a superstar in Japan, but he’s not much more than a cult hero in America. Those who have discovered him, namely through his Oscar winner Spirited Away (for Foreign Language film), know that he possesses an imagination that is as captivating as it is awe-inspiring. Ponyo is no different. Loosely based off of “The Little Mermaid", Miyazaki takes the audience far and beyond where they’re prepared to go with the well-known Hans Christian Andersen story.

What makes Miyazaki such an original voice in filmmaking is his uncanny ability to create simple children’s stories that inspire and challenge adults. The story of Ponyo’s quest to become a human being is told through the eyes of a child but with the wisdom of an adult. Miyazaki’s child protagonists always represent the purity and innocence that can be lost with growing up, yet he avoids vilifying adults as the inherent enemy. Miyaziki is uninterested in dissecting the dichotomy of adult ignorance versus child naiveté. His goal is to show that whether old or young, our minds should always be open to the fantastical aspects of life.

While Miyazaki does take liberties with “The Little Mermaid” the basics still remain the same. Ponyo is a mermaid, the daughter of human father Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) and Goddess mother Gran Mamare (Cate Blanchett), who longs for the world on land. However, her father seeks to keep her underwater as she possesses magic that could cause imbalance in the fabric of reality if she crossed. One day she does make it to the surface and is captured by the young Sosuke, who at first mistakes her for a goldfish. He soon realizes that she’s special and Ponyo also realizes the potential of Sosuke. Unfortunately the two are separated and Ponyo must find her way back to Sosuke not as a creature of the water, but as a real human girl.

For those who are fans of Miyazaki’s career, Ponyo will be another DVD to add to their collection. Although Miyazaki’s career defining film remains Spirited Away, Ponyo includes all the ingredients that have made his past films so successful, particularly in an artistic sense. Some may groan at Disney’s decision to cash in on the Jonas and Cyrus names by casting the younger siblings in the two main roles, but they detract nothing from the film except for an “original song” recorded for the credits. Besides that one misstep, Disney is able to graciously bring Miyazaki’s latest masterpiece to America.