August 24, 2009

I don’t go to movies on opening weekend any more. I think it’s dumb that Hollywood is now measuring the “hit” level of a movie mainly by the opening weekend. All that really shows is how effective their marketing was, rather than the quality of the movie. So my little protest is to skip opening weekends. Or maybe I’m just waiting for the crowds to go down a bit (they’re over at the premier of this week’s movie when I’m watching last week’s) so I don’t have to stand in line or sit through half an hour of thinly disguised ads. I can justify it either way.

But yes, there is an exception: anime. I like anime and I would like to see more of it in movie theaters, so when they do happen to show anime I feel like I have to get out there and see it, and hopefully they will find enough of a market for it to bring over some more.

So that’s at least part of why I went to see Ponyo. If you know anything at all about anime, you should know that the director, Hayao Miyazaki, is the legend among anime directors, so I really wouldn’t need any justification other than that to see one of his movies. But I also knew going in that this movie was really aimed at kids, so therefore I went in with somewhat lower expectations as far as the plot.

And those expectations were basically fulfilled. The story held together pretty well and it was entertaining, but it was pretty straightforward. If you’re looking for Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, this isn’t at that level. On the other hand, I haven’t seen My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service, and I’m under the impression that those are also more kid-friendly movies. So if you consider those to be essential Miyazaki, then maybe Ponyo is too.

The voice acting I thought was quite good. Disney has the clout to bring in some good actors, so that’s nice to hear (for those of us who remember the days when the American dubbed voices in anime were universally terrible). And overall they didn’t seem to Americanize it except maybe for the song over the end credits. But again, Disney has really been pretty faithful in their translations of Miyazaki, to their credit.

There’s one other reason that I go to see anime, and that’s the artwork. WARNING: Anime Art Geek content follows. From a character design perspective, Miyazaki is interesting because his characters look rather simplistic, without a lot of detail, but he still gets a lot out of them. From the neck up, many of the characters look like they could be exchanged seamlessly between his movies. On the other hand, he creates some really interesting outfits which do more to define and differentiate the characters. With this movie in particular, however, what really caught my eye were the backgrounds. Just amazing! It looked like they were done in colored pencils, with a somewhat sketchy style, but the effect was to really enhance the child-like point of view. Even so, the backgrounds never clashed with the animation on top of them. There were quite a few times when I wasn’t even watching the movie, just studying the backgrounds. Miyazaki is known for his eye for detail, and that was what made the movie for me, looking at all the elements of each scene and realizing how the master had put them together.

So that’s why I would recommend this movie. If the story doesn’t get you, lose yourself in the artwork.


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