Review: Ponyo [On the Cliff by the Sea] (2008)

PonyoRomantization: Gake no Ue no Ponyo

Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by: Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki
Story by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring (voice):     Yuria Nara as Ponyo
                               Hiroki Doi as Sosuke
                               Tomoko Yamaguchi as Risa
                               George Tokoro as Fujimoto
                               Kazushige Nagashima as Koichi
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography: Atsushi Okui
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Distributed by: Toho (Japan)
                         Walt Disney Pictures (North America)
Release date(s): July 19, 2008
                           August 14, 2009 (United States)
Running time: 101 minutes

Synopsis (wikipedia):

Brunhilde is a fish-girl who lives in an aquarium with her father Fujimoto, a wizard, in his underwater castle with numerous smaller sisters. One day, when her father takes her and her siblings on an outing in his four-flippered submarine, Brunhilde is driven by a desire to see even more of the world and floats away on the back of a jellyfish. She ends up stranded on the shore of a small fishing town and is rescued by a boy named Sōsuke, who cuts his finger in the process. She licks his wound when he picks her up, and the wound heals almost instantly. After taking a great liking to her, Sōsuke names her Ponyo and promises to protect her forever. Meanwhile, Fujimoto is looking for his daughter. Upset that she ran away, he believes the humans have now kidnapped her, and he calls his wave spirits to return Ponyo to him. After the wave spirits take Ponyo away, Sōsuke is heartbroken and goes home with his mother, Lisa, who tries to cheer him up, to no avail.

Ponyo and Fujimoto have a confrontation, during which Ponyo refuses to let her father call her by her birthname, “Brunhilde.” She declares her name to be Ponyo and voices her desire to become human, because she has started to fall in love with Sōsuke. Suddenly she starts to grow legs and turn into a human, a consequence of the human blood she swallowed when she licked Sōsuke’s finger. Her father turns her back with difficulty and goes to summon Ponyo’s mother, Granmamare. Meanwhile, Ponyo, with the help of her sisters, breaks away from her father and releases his magic to make herself human. The huge amount of magic released into the ocean causes an imbalance in the world, resulting in a huge tsunami. Riding on the waves of the storm, Ponyo goes back to visit Sōsuke. Lisa, Sōsuke, and Ponyo wait out the storm at Sōsuke’s house, and the next morning Lisa leaves to check up on the residents of the nursing home where she works.

Granmamare arrives at Fujimoto’s submarine. On her way there, Sōsuke’s father sees and recognizes her as the Goddess of Mercy. Fujimoto notices the moon has come out of its orbit and satellites are falling like shooting stars. Granmamare declares that if Sōsuke can pass a test, Ponyo can live as a human and the world order will be restored. If he fails, Ponyo will turn into sea foam. Sōsuke and Ponyo wake up to find that most of the land around the house has been covered by the ocean. Lisa has not come home yet, so with the help of Ponyo’s magic, they make Sōsuke’s toy boat life-size and set out to find Lisa.

While traveling, they see prehistoric fish swimming beneath them. After landing and finding Lisa’s empty car, Ponyo and Sōsuke go through a tunnel. There Ponyo loses her human form and reverts into a fish. Sōsuke and Ponyo are taken by Fujimoto into the ocean and down to the protected nursing home where they are reunited with Lisa and meet Granmamare, both of whom have just had a long private conversation. Granmamare asks Sōsuke if he can love Ponyo whether she is a fish or human. Sōsuke replies that he “loves all the Ponyos.” Granmamare then allows Ponyo to become human once Sōsuke kisses her on the surface. The film ends with Ponyo jumping up and kissing Sosuke, transforming into a little girl in mid-air.

I Say…

Little Mermaid being my favorite fairy tale of all time, and an avid follower of Ghibli films as well, made me curious about Ponyo when I first saw it. I was awed by the abstracts of the film and wondered how Hayao Miyazaki-san pictures the sea inside his head. The first few moments of the film was delegated to describe Ponyo’s home and surroundings before she meets Sosuke. If that isn’t convincing enough, how about the tsunami scenes. They’re just… wow. Miyazaki-san is a genius.


The film was based on H.C.Andersen’s The Little Mermaid… minus the sad ending. Ponyo is just the one of the cutest Ghibli characters! Count Sosuke in as well. These two five year olds sure know how to get serious. I think they’re the youngest Ghibli love teams. The parents of Ponyo too, most especially Fujimoto, are both very serious characters. Fujimoto masked his protective feelings towards his daughter by acting up like a villain, when all he ever wanted is to make sure his daughter will not turn into bubbles in case Sosuke is not the right man (they are that serious!) for Ponyo. In the original story by H.C. Andersen, the mermaid turned into sea foam after refusing to kill the prince she loved so dearly who didn’t love her back.

Kids and kids at heart are sure to enjoy this flick, and will be thrilled of Ponyo’s adventure from being goldfish to a human girl. Dive into the signature Miyazaki-san’s abstract imagination. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea will be added on my list of memorable Ghibli movies ever made.



Review: From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)


Directed by: Gorō Miyazaki
Produced by: Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki & Keiko Niwa
Based on: Kokuriko-zaka kara by Chizuru Takahashi & Tetsurō Sayama
Starring (Voice): Masami Nagasawa as Umi Matsuzaki
                            Junichi Okada as Shun Kazama
Music by: Satoshi Takebe
Cinematography: Atsushi Okui
Studio:    Studio Ghibli
Distributed by: Toho (Japan)
                         Walt Disney Pictures        
                         StudioCanal (UK)
Release date(s): July 16, 2011
                           March 2013 (USA)
Running time: 91 minutes

Plot (Wikipedia):
Umi, a 16-year old girl, lives in Kokuriko (from coquelicot, French for Papaver rhoeas) Manor, a house that overlooks Yokohama harbour. Every morning, Umi raises a set of signal flags with the message “I pray for safe voyages”. The identity of the person raising the flags arouses much local interest, and a poem about her is published in a school newspaper. The author of this poem, Shun, always sees this flag from the sea as he rides a tugboat to school.

Umi and Shun first meet when Shun decides to participate in a daredevil stunt for the school newspaper, leaving Umi with a negative first impression of Shun. They meet again when Umi accompanies her younger sister to obtain Shun’s autograph at the Quartier Latin, the building housing many of their high school’s clubs and societies. Shun is revealed to be a member of the Culture Club, which is responsible for the publication of the school newspaper. Umi winds up joining the club when she learns that they need a new typesetter because Shun has recently injured his hand in a scuffle with a cat.

At Umi’s suggestion, many students work hard volunteering to restore the Quartier Latin to its former glory. During the cleanup, Umi gets to know Shun better and starts to develop feelings for him. When Umi shows him a photograph of her father, Shun begins distancing himself from her because he secretly has the same photograph and believes they may be half-siblings. Umi is hurt by Shun’s response, though he eventually reveals the shocking fact to her.

After a great deal of effort, the students complete their cleanup of the Quartier Latin, but are disappointed that their efforts may be wasted when Tokumara, a prominent businessman and sponsor of the school, intends to tear down the building to make way for redevelopment. In order to stop the demolition, the students nominate Shun, Umi, and Shirō to go to Tokyo to persuade Tokumara to change his mind. After Tokumura agrees to inspect the Quartier Latin, the group separates before going back to Kokuriko. While Umi and Shun wait for a train together, Umi confesses her love to him. Shun reciprocates her feelings.
When Umi’s mother returns from America, Umi learns that she is not biologically related to Shun. Her mother reveals that Umi’s father registered Shun as his own child when he put Shun up for adoption after Shun’s father had died fighting in the Korean War. Since her mother was pregnant and they could not afford to adopt Shun, Shun was given away to a couple who had just lost their child – Shun’s current adopted parents.

Shun, Umi, and Shirō are initially forced to wait a long time before meeting Tokumara in hopes they would give up and leave. Their persistence wins out and Tokumara agrees to visit the Quartier Latin the following afternoon. Impressed by the students’ hard work restoring the building, he agrees to abandon his plans for redevelopment.

Meanwhile, Umi and Shun meet a ship captain who was familiar with their fathers. He confirms that they are not related by blood and shares the story of Umi and Shun’s fathers and his relationship with both of them.

With everything resolved, Umi happily resumes her duty of raising the flags every morning.

I Say…

What to expect from any Ghibli film?

It is fast-paced and anything may happen before it ends. Still holds true for their 2011 flick, From Up On Poppy Hill. This is actually a clean, teen melodrama any parent can let their kids watch without supervision. I cannot see any indication of parental guidance for this film.

Shun and Umi almost made me cry! Any viewer will surely feel that way as soon as the conflict is revealed. You wouldn’t want to miss a scene even though it’s heartbreaking enough to turn off. I am a sucker for melodramas… and I love how the conflict of their story was executed. It sure is a good one.

I’ve seen almost all the Ghibli films in the past, where they emphasize greatly on each setting and each detail of their background. The Quarter Latin almost reminded me of Howl’s castle… an old, clutter-filled space.

from-up-on-poppy-hill-testo            From-Up-on-Poppy-Hill-2011-Movie-Image

My favorite scene was when Shun passed by and saw Umi headed for the market to buy some meat… then Ryu Sakamoto’s Ue o Muite Arukō started to play. It’s just one of the old Japanese pop songs I am familiar with. Google-ing a bit more, this insert song became famous the same year as the story’s timeline. I think it was a very popular song during that time. With that mentioned, the movie also have an excellent soundtrack worth listening to.

If you happen to be in melodrama mood and love animated movies, this will surely make it to your list of to-watch-again movies… because I think I will do so in a bit.

Review: My Neighbor Totoro [1988]

Japanese Title: Tonari no Totoro
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by: Toru Hara
Music by: Joe Hisaishi
Cinematography: Hisao Shirai
Editing by: Takeshi Seyama
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Running time: 86 minutes
Release date(s): April 16, 1988 [Japan]

March 7, 2006 [Disney Dub]

Voice Actors:

Elle Fanning/Chika Sakamoto as Mei Kusakabe
Dakota Fanning/Noriko Hidaka as Kusakabe Satsuki
Frank Welker/Hitoshi Takagi as Totoro
Pat Carroll/Tanie Kiribayashi as Nanny
Timothy Daly/Shigesato Itoi as Professor Kusakabe
Lea Salonga/Sumi Shimamoto as Mrs. Kusakabe

Plot: [Wingsee]

Satsuki and Mei have recently moved to a countryside area of Japan with their Father. Their Mother has been rehabilitating at a nearby hospital and the move was made so that they could be closer to her, as well as to provide a better environment for her once she is allowed to go home. Although Satsuki and Mei were at first frightened by their new strange house, they soon discover that there is a magical presence there. Soon, they meet their new neighbour, a tree guardian named Totoro who lives in the forest behind their house, and together a wonderful adventure begins.

I Say…

The story was a bit slow paced, familiarizing the audience with the countryside life and how the Kusakabe Family led a peaceful and cheerful life despite being incomplete. The two children, Kusakabe Satsuki and Kusakabe Mei are quite adult like at their really young age.

The excitement began during the next half where Totoro began to feed their imaginations with all their magical encounters with him. There are a number of scary but lovable characters present aside from Totoro. To name a few, there are the little soot spirits who looked like the ones who appeared in the Spirited Away movie. Another interesting character is the Catbus, who was emphasized to be male. It actually kind of reminds me about the Alice in Wonderland Cheshire cat.

The film made me remember a lot of magical Disney films, who makes everyone imaginative and young at heart. This Studio Ghibli animated My Neighbor Totoro is one of those classics that will remind you of a child’s perfectly fantastic imagination.

*The poster was the original idea of having only one lead child.

Review: Grave of the Fireflies [1988]

Japanese Title: Hotaru No Haka
Release Date: 1988-04-16 [Japan]
Running time: 88 minutes
Director: Isao Takahata
Screenplay: Isao Takahata
Music: Michio Mamiya

Voice Actors (Japanese):
Ayano Shiraishi as Setsuko
Tsutomu Tatsumi as Seita
Akemi Yamaguchi as Aunt
Yoshiko Shinohara as Mother

Plot summary: (animenewsnetwork)
On the final days of World War II, 14-year-old Seita and his four-year-old sister Setsuko are orphaned after their mother is killed during an air-raid by American forces in Kobe, Japan. After having a falling-out with their aunt, they move into an abandoned bomb shelter. With no surviving relatives and their emergency funds and rations depleted, Seita and Setsuko must struggle to survive their hardships as well as those of their country, which is on the losing end of the war.

I Say…
Grave of the Fireflies is a sad one. If we think Whispers of the Heart is realistic, this one is much more. It is, the most emotional animated film I have ever seen so far. I really made it a point to watch it after I have seen the previous Ghibli films I have reviewed before, because I know that it would either make me cry or upset me, because my friends told me that they cried when Setsuko died. Maybe life’s really hard when there is war.

It is a good and touching film. A bit figurative if you’d ask me. And maybe after watching it you’d wish too that no more wars will occur and separate children from their mothers and fathers.

Review: Laputa: Castle In the Sky [1986]

Japanese Title: Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta
Release date: August 2, 1986
Running time: 124 minutes
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Produced by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Music by: Joe Hisaishi

Voice Actors: (Japanese, American, Disney dubbers)
Keiko Yokozawa, Louise Chambell, Anna Paquin (Sheeta)
Mayumi Tanaka, Bertha Greene, James Van Der Beek (Pazu)
Minori Terada, Jack Witte, Mark Hamill (Muska)

Plot: (from animenewsnetwork)
A girl named Sheeta falls out of the sky and lands in Pazu’s arms. Soon after a gang of air pirates led by Dola, as well as a mysterious man named Muska, are on their tails. The chase leads them to a floating castle that once belonged to an ancient race of people.

*****Differences between the English and Japanese Versions*****

(accessed through: wikipedia)

-The Disney-produced English dub was recorded back in 1998 and planned for release on video in 1999, but Disney eventually decided to release it to theaters instead (presumably because the first release under their deal with Studio Ghibli,Kiki’s Delivery Service, performed better than expected on VHS).

-After the box office failure of Princess Mononoke in the U.S., however, Laputa’s release date was pushed back yet again; on occasion the completed dub was screened at select children’s festivals. The movie was finally released on DVD and video in the U.S. on April 15, 2003, alongside Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away. Like Princess Mononoke, the Laputa dub received somewhat mixed reviews–criticisms were directed at the leads, while Cloris Leachman’s Dola and Mark Hamill’s Muska drew raves. Despite this, Castle in the Sky was the second-best selling DVD from Studio Ghibli distributed by Disney in the year of its release (after Spirited Away and ahead of Kiki’s Delivery Service).

-Although the plot and much of the script was left intact, Disney’s English dub of Laputa: Castle in the Sky contains some changes.

-A significant quantity of “background chatter” and comical one- liners were added (similar to Disney’s dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service)

-Composer Joe Hisaishi was commissioned to rework and extend his original synthesizer-composed soundtrack into a 90-minute piece for symphony orchestra in an effort to make the movie more accessible to U.S. audiences.

-Pazu and Sheeta, as portrayed by James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin, are made to sound as though they are in their mid-teens, rather than their pre-teens.

-References to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island were removed.
While all these alterations were approved by Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki, there have been critics and fans who called them into question. In particular, some fans pointed out that the new soundtrack placed music in scenes that previously involved the dramatic use of natural silence, as in the opening airship raid or when Pazu and Sheeta pass through the storm cloud. On the other hand, according to a diary about the reworking of the music, Miyazaki is said to have applauded Hisaishi’s efforts, and some critics gave the re-scoring high marks in their reviews.

I say…

It’s one heck of an adventure we got here! Reviews on Fushigi no Umi no Nadia was right after all, it was like a longer version of Laputa’s. Lots and lots of characters from the series is very similar to Laputa’s. The drawings, the elements and the characters were obviously patterned to Laputa. But the viewpoint of Nadia is on Jules Verne’s “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” while Laputa is on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. I also thought that the flying ships in Laputa were very similar to 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, also from the same director.

I don’t think Pazu & Sheeta were in love… They just share the common feeling of being orphans and it drew them to each other. I think they look more like brother and sister. It will be better for me to think of them that way.

I’ve always thought the movie would be boring, so I always skip and choose another Ghibli movie. But it turned out to be a good, classic animation film. It influenced a great deal of animation series known to us now. I think I’m starting to appreciate this Hayao Miyazaki guy… he’s really good. I wonder if he’d still make other great animation movies for Studio Ghibli.

Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service [1989]

Kiki's Delivery ServiceJapanese Title: Majo no Takkyūbin
Release date: July 29, 1989
Running time: 103 minutes
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki (original script)
Based on the book by: Eiko Kadono
Music by: Joe Hisaishi

The Voice Actors:
Kirsten Dunst/Minami Takayama: Kiki
Janeane Garofalo/Minami Takayama: Ursula
Phil Hartman/Rei Sakuma: Jiji
Matthew Lawrence/Kappei Yamaguchi: Tombo
Tress MacNeille/Keiko Toda: Osono

Plot Summary: (from animenewsnetwork)

When an apprentice witch turns thirteen, she must leave her home in order to hone her craft. Although Kiki’s sole talent is broom-flying, she sets out for adventure with her cat Jiji. They settle in a charming seaside town, where Kiki establishes her own delivery service. As Kiki learns to balance independence with responsibility, her kind heart wins her many new friends in this coming-of-age tale.

******Differences Between the English and Japanese Versions******

Although the plot and much of the script was left intact, Disney’s English dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service contains some changes. There were occasional additions and embellishments to the musical score overlaying some of the previously silent sequences. Most of the extra pieces of music (provided by Paul Chihara) ranged from soft piano music to a string-plucked renditions of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. In addition, the replacement of the original opening and ending theme songs. The new songs, “Soaring” and “I’m Gonna Fly” were written and performed by Sydney Forest.

In terms of plot, the character of the cat Jiji has changed slightly. The Japanese version had Jiji speak in a more female-sounding voice, which is how the Japanese depict cats in their media. The American version had Jiji as a more distinct male voice — possibly for fear audiences would think him female, until “she” showed interest in the white Persian cat next door — and gave him more of a wisecracking exterior. In the Japanese version, Jiji loses his ability to communicate with Kiki but in the American version, an extra line is included that implies he is able to speak (or she to understand him) again.

More minor changes to appeal to the different demographics include Kiki drinking hot chocolate instead of coffee, and a line about disco is changed instead to about ‘cute boys’. All changes were approved by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. (Accessed Through: wikipedia)

I Say…
Talk about girl power! I really like Kiki! She rocks! Although she kind of reminds me about Nan (Little Women II’s Anne Harding) and Chihiro from Spirited Away. I think the movie makes sense. Everytime you think that you’re alone… there’s always someone or some people who couldn’t just turn you down. You just need to be a believer. The end was OK, it wasn’t too abrupt or short, neither was it boring. I really like the story. I think I’m going to check out the Japanese dubbed to be able to check out the differences. My liking for KDS is next to liking Whispers of the Heart. If not for the flying, it’d be a little more realistic in terms of the emotions humans feel. It’s all about independence, being young-spirited and cheerful no matter what you are facing. It such a feel good movie.

It’s Kirsten Dunst and Matthew Lawrence for the Disney dubbed! I was so happy to have read that fact! I have such a huge crush on Matthew Lawrence when I was 10 years old. (Those were the Super Human Samurai days of my life.)

Do check this movie out, it’s fun!

Review: Ocean Waves [1993]

Umi ga KikoeruJapanese Title: Umi ga Kikoeru
Release: 1993-05-05 (Japan)
Running time: 72 minutes
Director: Tomomichi Mochizuki
Original novel: Saeko Himuro
Music: Shigeru Nagata
Character design: Katsuya Kondo

Plot: (from filmaffinity)
Taku Morisaki is a college student on his way back to a high school reunion. On the plane flight back, he remembers events from his high school days. He remembers getting a glimpse of a new girl with his friend Matsuno. Later, Matsuno introduces his new girlfriend to Morisaki. Her name is Rikako Muto. She is very good in sports and academically, but is a social outsider since she is a transfer student. In their last year in school, the class takes a trip to Hawaii. When Rikako’s money is stolen, it is to Morisaki that she asks to help her. This doesn’t go unnoticed by Matsuno, and cracks begin to appear in their friendship.

I Say…

I think the movie is quite nice, being short and funny. The love story is not very obvious until the end, which makes it different. Again it could be another common story of any Japanese teenager who is growing up. Morisaki Taku was unconsciously falling for the pretty and unusual Muto Rikako, and he didn’t realize it until their high school reunion! Can you believe that? It might not be real in a sense but it just might happen, and that is what the film is all about. The past and the present… where will you be at? Something like that.

It also showcases how great boys are when it comes to friendship and mixing it with their affection towards one girl. I really admire those boys.