Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (synopsis)
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea is Miyazaki's own unique take on Hans Christian Anderson's tale, "The Little Mermaid". It tells the story of a young girl fish who defies her father's wishes and beliefs about the human world to live with the boy she loves. After covertly travelling to the surface by jellyfish, Ponyo becomes stranded near a house on a seaside cliff, where she is found and rescued by a human boy named Sosuke. Sosuke names her Ponyo, and takes her to his school in a bucket, and shows her to the little old ladies who live in the nursing home where his mother, Lisa, works. Imajine Sosuke's surprise when Ponyo speaks, and tells him that she likes him!
It isn't long before Ponyo's father, Fujimoto, discovers her missing, and goes looking for her. Fujimoto is a kindly, yet somewhat xenophobic sea wizard, who oddly enough goes about in human form. He recovers Ponyo and returns to the sea with her, much to Sosuke's distress. He gives Ponyo a good talking to, but is disconcerted when she not only defies him, but begins to transform herself into a human. Fujimoto uses his magic to stop her, and essentially imprisons her.
On the surface, there is a bittersweet moment when Sosuke and Lisa find out that his father, a crewman on a ship, is unable to return home that day. This leads to a series of testy messages from Lisa, delivered by Aldis lamp, but Sosuke manages to cheer her up, though he is still desolated by Ponyo's disappearance.
Ponyo's sisters, meanwhile, free her from Fujimoto's prison and help her to steal some of their father's magic, so that she can complete her transformation and escape to the surface. This has an immediate knock-on effect of causing a heavy sea storm above. In the midst of this storm, Ponyo and Sosuke are happily reunited. There follows a series of humorous vignettes with Ponyo not-quite-managing to learn to act human, mainly by copying Sosuke. In the morning, however, they discover that the town is flooded, and the citizens have had to take to boats. Ponyo helps Sosuke find a boat, and the two set off to find Lisa, who had left during the storm.
The effects of Ponyo's stolen magic cause progressively worse effects, including knocking the moon out of its orbit. This eventually compells Ponyo's mother, a gentle giantess, to intervene and set things right. Sosuke and Lisa are re-united, but Ponyo is again recaptured and returned to fish form. This leads to a meeting between Sosuke and Ponyo's mother, where she gently asks him if he can still love Ponyo, even though she is a fish. Sosuke assures her that he loves Ponyo, no matter what her form is, and Ponyo's mother allows her to remain with Sosuke, which Fujimoto also grudgingly accepts.
In tone and style, "Ponyo" clearly springs from the same mind as "Totoro". CGI was minimized for this production, with Miyazaki instead opting for a brightly-colored, hand-drawn look that well suits the story's plot and characters. Miyazaki has lost none of his ability to create otherworldly environments - imagine the forest from Nausicaa, except underwater and populated by fantastic sea creatures rather than giant insects - and leaves even older viewers spellbound by his mastery of his art.
Also completely intact is Miyazaki's ability to tell a simple, charming tale that tugs gently on the viewer's heartstrings, and leaves one feeling younger than when they had entered the cinema. Miyazake is starting to show his age, but with Ponyo, as with his other films, he has left a beautiful, timeless legacy that will doubtless endure for generations.