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Ponyo (a J!-ENT Anime Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 1, 2010 by  



I had one word going through my mind throughout the film and that was “wow!”.   What an amazing looking film utilizing hand drawn backgrounds and Miyazaki literally pouring his heart and soul into this film. Although a film that he created for young children, this is a family film that people of all ages can enjoy.  Simply magnificent, “Ponyo” is indeed a Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece!

Image courtesy of © NIBARIKI/GNDHDDT.  Disney.  All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Ponyo

DURATION: 103 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 24-Bit), Japanese and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

COMPANY: Studio Ghibli/Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

RATED: G

Release Date: March 2, 2010

 

Originally created by Hayao Miyazaki

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Music by Joe Hisaishi

Art Director: Noboru Yoshida

Animation Director: Katsuya Kondo

Sound Director: Eriko Kimura

Director of Photography: Atsushi Okui

Executive producer: Koji Hoshino

Producer: Toshio Suzuki

Production by Studio Ghibli

Featuring the following voice talent:

Hiroki Doi/Frankie Jonas as Sosuke

Yuria Nana/Noah Cyrus as Ponyo

George Tokoro/Liam Neeson as Fujimoto

Tomoko Yamaguchi/Tina Fey as Risa (Lisa)

Betty White as Noriko

Emi Hiraoka/Janessa Rose as Kumiko

Kazuko Yoshiyuki/Lily Tomlin as Toki

Kazushige Nagashima/Matt Damon as Koichi

Tomoko Naraoka/Cloris Leachman as Yoshie

Yuki Amami/Cate Blanchett as Grandmamare

Walking on the beach near his home, a five-year old boy named Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas) finds a beautiful goldfish trapped in a bottle. He releases the tiny creature and, sure that she is no ordinary fish, names his new friend Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus). As Ponyo and Sosuke grow closer, she reveals to him that she is the daughter of a powerful wizard (Liam Neeson) and a sea goddess (Cate Blanchett), and magically transforms herself into a real human girl. But by crossing from her watery world onto land, Ponyo has created a dangerous imbalance in nature. As the moon begins to draw closer to the earth, sea levels rise and a giant tsunami threatens to destroy Sosuke’s home. Ponyo’s father marshals all his might to find his missing daughter, as the two children embark on an adventure of a lifetime to try and save the world.

In 2008, Studio Ghibli released their latest Hayao Miyazaki film “Ponyo” (aka “Gake no Ue no Ponyo”) in Japan and followed with a U.S. release in August 2009.  The film which is Miyazaki’s eighth film for Studio Ghibli has amassed several awards including the Japanese Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.  The film which is budgeted around $34 million dollars made over $199 million worldwide.  Where his 1988 film “My Neighbor Totoro” was Miyazaki’s tale for older children, this time around for “Ponyo” he wanted to create a film for young children and was inspired from Hans Christian Anderson’s”The Little Mermaid”.

And now this magnificent film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray (which includes the DVD) on March 2nd.

“Ponyo” is a film about a young five-year-old boy named Sosuke (voiced by Hiroki Doi/Frankie Jonas) who lives with his mother Lisa (voiced by Tomoko Yamaguchi/Tina Fey).  His father Koichi (voiced by Kazushige Nagashima/Matt Damon) is in the military and is on a ship leaving Lisa to take care of Sosuke and bring him to nursery school, while she works at a retirement home.  The two live on the highest peak of a seaside town right near a cliff.

Meanwhile in the water, a man named Fujimoto (voiced by George Tokoro/Liam Neeson) is a human who has the ability to live undersea and also has great power and taking Ponyo (a fish with a face of young girl) and her siblings out on a trip.  While riding on a submarine, Ponyo swims away and sleeps on a jellyfish but accidentally gets caught up in the pollution that is trapped in the ocean and is stuck inside a bottle.  Although, she is able to escape the ships dragging the undersea waste, she is unable to breath because of the bottle.

Sosuke notices the bottle and thinks its a goldfish that is stuck inside the bottle and frees her by breaking the bottle.  He accidentally cuts himself on the glass but Ponyo licks the blood from his finger and instantly heals him.  Excited about his new “goldfish” which he names “Ponyo”, he brings her along with him while his mother drives him to the nursery.

He tries to even feed her part of his sandwich and interesting enough, Ponyo eats the ham from his sandwich.  As he has fun with his new fish friend, her father Fujimoto wants his daughter back and using his magical powers, he is able to retrieve her from Sosuke.

But when he brings Ponyo back home, she enjoys her time with Sosuke so much that she immediately starts talking about how she wants to be with him and also eat more ham.  But most of all, wanting to be human.  But Fujimoto is not thrilled about humans because of how they have polluted the oceans but Ponyo loves Sosuke and wants to be with him and wants to be human which allows her to grow arms and limbs.  Fujimoto realizes that Ponyo has had a taste of human’s blood and immediately uses his power to revert her back to being a fish.  Concerned about Ponyo, Fujimoto goes to visit his wife and Ponyo’s mother Granmamare (voiced by Yuki Amami/Cate Blanchett).

But while Ponyo is incapacitated, her siblings come to use their magic and she ends up finding a way to become human.  But unfortunately, she is unaware of the consequences by offsetting nature by releasing too much magic into the ocean and now the imbalance has caused hurricane like conditions in the seaside town.  With the town being flooded, Lisa and Sosuke try to make it back home as quickly as they can.  But Sosuke notices a young girl running along with the waves.  He realizes that the girl is Ponyo and she has come to stay with him.

But despite the happiness that Sosuke and Pony have found with one another, the imbalance caused by Ponyo turning human has led the moon to come out of its orbit and affecting the waves at a terrible level.  With Lisa concerned about the people at the retirement home, she knows that she must check up on them and knowing that their home is high up on the cliff and that the children are safe in the house, she leaves Sosuke to take care of the house and stay with Ponyo.

The following morning, with the water risen so high near the patio of Sosuke’s home, he now worries about his mother who has not returned home.  Thus begins the adventure between Sosuke and Ponyo as they go search for his mother Lisa.

VIDEO:

Magical, beautiful and everything that you can expect from Hayao Miyazaki.  I was completely in awe when I watched this film.  In this day and age, we tend to put so much into CG animated films and rarely do we see hand drawn quality animation anymore.  I’m so glad that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli continues to show this creative style through this film. The hand painted backgrounds are absolutely beautiful, the character design continues that Miyazaki look and style but looks absolutely fluid during its more action-oriented scenes.

Presented in 1080p High Definition, detail can be seen on the painted backgrounds.  Vibrant during the day scenes with trees that are full of detail and water reflecting the trees, cliffs showcasing the detail as shadows and detail showcasing the curvature and the little pieces of grass that are placed within the rocks.   The scene with the storm and the crashing features Miyazaki’s handiwork as he created the water and his waves all by himself.  It’s an amazing sight to see.

There are no compression artifacts, edge enhancement, aliasing, banding or any problems in picture quality for “Ponyo” whatsoever.  “Ponyo” achieves perfection!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Ponyo” is presented in English 5.1 DTS Master Audio (48 kHz/24-bit) and in Japanese and French 5.1 Dolby Digital.  First the good.  The English dub track is fantastic.  You want an immersive soundscape, “Ponyo” delivers.  From the sound of the ocean, bubbles popping, the rush of the waves, the sounds of trees rustling, the sound of rain, sea animals swimming in the water and most of all, a beautiful musical score by Joe Hisaishi.  This soundtrack is absolutely divine.   Great use of front and center channels with dialogue and music that is crystal clear.  The surround channels and the use of LFE as the sound effects bring “Ponyo” to life.  This lossless soundtrack is perfect!

Now the bad.  There is no lossless Japanese audio soundtrack.  The Japanese Blu-ray release has a lossless soundtrack but what happened to it for this Blu-ray release?  There is no doubt that audiophile purists who want the original Japanese soundtrack are going to be upset by this and one can hope that if Disney does bring out a Miyazaki release on Blu-ray in the near future, that a lossless soundtrack is included for both the English and Japanese audio.

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ponyo” has a good number of special features in 1080p High Definition and 480i Standard Definition.  Audio is in English 2.0 Dolby Digital and subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.  Special features include:

  • Meet Ponyo – (3:22) Executive producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy talk about working with Hayao Miyazaki and give a quick introduction to “Ponyo”.
  • Original Japanese Storyboards – Watch the entire film but this time with the video showcasing the original storyboards.
  • A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki & John Lasseter – (3:31) PIXAR’s John Lasseter and a friend of Hayao Miyazaki talk about “Ponyo”.
  • Creating Ponyo – (3:58) Hayao Miyazaki talks about how he came up with the concept of “Ponyo” and him wanting to create a film for children.
  • Ponyo & Fujimoto – (2:59) Hayao Miyazaki talks about the name “Ponyo” and the character Fujimoto.
  • The Nursery – (2:00) Studio Ghibli Producer Toshio Suzuki talks about Miyazaki wanting to create a children’s nursery and both men made Miyazaki’s dream happen by creating the Studio Ghibli Nursery.
  • Producer’s Perspective: Telling the Story– (2:27) Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki talks about how Miyazaki works and creating the storyboards and story for “Ponyo” and more.
  • The Locations of Ponyo – (9:32) An excerpt from a Japanese documentary on Miyazaki’s animated films and visiting the areas that inspired Miyazaki to create the village of “Ponyo”.
  • Scoring Miyazaki – (7:19) A featurette about Joe Hisaishi’s scoring Miyazaki films and more.
  • Original Japanese Trailer – (3:22) The original Japanese theatrical trailers.
  • Behind the Microphone – (6:04) Featuring the English dub voice talent talking about their role, their appreciation for Miyazaki and his films and interviews with the All-star talent.
  • My Neighbor Totoro – Creating My Neighbor Totoro – (3:00) Miyazaki talking about the creation of his film “My Neighbor Totoro”.
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service – Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service –  (2:27) Hayao Miyazaki discussing the creation of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and what inspired Miyazaki for the creation of the city in the film.
  • Castle in the Sky: Character Sketches – (2:37) Miyazaki talks about the characters of “Castle in the Sky” and discussing how his audiences are loyal to his films over time.
  • Enter the Lands – Visit the land featuring various small animated Studio Ghibli characters (from all films).  Click on a character from that film (note: only “Ponyo”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Castle in the Sky” are available) to get a Q&A or a small video info. of that film and its characters.

EXTRAS:

A DVD of “Ponyo” is included with this Blu-ray release.  The DVD is in Widescreen (1:85:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions, English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Japanese and French with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.

Once again, Miyazaki continues to prove to us that hand-drawn animation is absolutely beautiful and there is no need to join the pack and create a CG animated film.  “Ponyo” succeeds on all levels – storyline, animation, music and its soundtrack.  I absolutely loved this film!

Before I saw the film, I figured that people were so used to Miyazaki’s more serious work and for him to try to go back to something similar to “My Neighbor Totoro” was going to be difficult in this day and age but with “Ponyo”, he managed to pull it off.  The world he creates is magical, the characters are just enjoyable to watch.  From every scene, I was literally just loving the animation and the painted backgrounds and to find out that Miyazaki actually drew the sea and the waves himself using 170,000 separate images is amazing.

In terms of any deep messages on society or ecology, in “Ponyo”, we see how trash and waste has been collecting on the ocean floors and Ponyo being stuck in a bottle lying in a wasteland under the sea.  For Fujimoto, as he tries to maneuver underwater, waste and garbage is everywhere.  So, it was great to see Miyazaki convey how people have mistreated the ocean with their garbage and incorporating it to the storyline.

The Blu-ray is absolutely beautiful when it comes to picture quality, lossless audio and also contains a good number of special features.  If there was only one thing that prevents this Blu-ray release from reaching perfection is the lack of a lossless Japanese audio soundtrack.  But both English and Japanese vocals are well-done with the English track featuring all-star talent with Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Betty White, Cloris Leachmen, Lily Tomlin and Matt Damon providing their voices for this film.   Even Jonas Brothers sibling Frankie Jonas (as Sosuke) and Miley’s younger sister Noah (as Ponyo) do a great job as the primary vocals.  The Japanese soundtrack features two of Japan’s top celebrities with George Tokoro lending his voice for Fujimoto and Tomoko Yamaguchi as Lisa.  And also Hiroki Doi (Sosuke) and Yuria Nana (Ponyo) do a wonderful job providing the main voices for the Japanese audio track as well.

Overall, Hayao Miyazaki is truly a remarkable filmmaker and “Ponyo” is a true masterpiece.  Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli show no signs of waning and they manage to capture the magic that I have felt when I was younger when I first watched Ghibli classics such as “Nausicaa”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”.  This Blu-ray release is highly recommended!

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