Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ponyo: A Movie That Made My Neurons Ache

About two months ago I saw the Japanese anime film “My Neighbor Totoro” for the first time. Never having seen a Hayao Miyazaki directed film before, I did not know what to expect. I watched it with my two young sons and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The film was equal parts strange and charming. I was very pleased that a Netfix suggestion actually paid off. I was also quite stoked by the fact that my kids fell in love with a movie that had zero violence in it. This is no small achievement.

Excited by my discovery of Miyazaki, I put “Ponyo” in my Netflix queue. I debated clicking the dreaded “Move to position #1” button, but decided I didn’t want to leapfrog over “Magilla Gorilla: Complete Series: Disc 3” or “Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard,” so I bided my time before exerting my power on the queue. When the time was right, I made my move and “Ponyo” arrived today.

As soon as I got home from work the boys and I hunkered down in front of the television with dinner on our trays and began to watch the movie. For the next 103 minutes my jaw was literally agape. You could have thrown a ping pong ball in my mouth from a distance of 20 yards.

Whereas “Totoro” was equal parts strange and charming, “Ponyo” was equal parts perplexing and sappy. While the basic plot of a girl goldfish (Ponyo) who wants to become human was easy enough to follow, the subplot, in which Ponyo’s father is some kind of evil Aquaman and/or medieval sorcerer who wants to destroy all humans by turning the earth into one giant ocean and who may or may not be getting help with his nefarious plans from his 150-foot aquatic goddess wife, was so contrived and convoluted that I began to feel my neurons ache as they attempted to make sense of what was happening on screen.

But maybe I’m just dense. For those of you who have seen this movie, can you help me with the following questions (and if you haven’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t really call these spoilers):

1- Why are Ponyo and her several thousand goldfish siblings living in bubbles? (And are they supposed to be air bubbles or water bubbles?)

2- What exactly are the elixirs in Ponyo’s dad’s extra-special-secret lair supposed to do?

3- Why was there only one human who was freaked out by the fact that Sosuke’s goldfish had a human face and was wearing a red and white onesie?

I can go on all day with my questions about this movie, but I’ll stop here and move on to a different sticking point—the dialogue. I’m not sure if it was the delivery or the screenwriting, or a combination of the two, but for large portions of the movie I felt like I was watching a junior high school play. All the characters were so sickeningly sweet with each other (except for the psychotic Aquaman wannabe and the cranky woman in the senior center) that I wanted to pluck my own eyes out with the nearest spork.

This unique combination of an impenetrable plot and painfully trite dialogue made for one of my more unusual movie-watching experiences. And I should mention that the surreal visuals that made “Ponyo” look like a Ralph Bakshi film on Quaaludes, only added to the strangeness of the experience.

It is for all these reasons that as the credits rolled I thought to myself, “Here’s something I’ll never see again.” So you can imagine my dismay when, as soon as I turned it off, my six-year-old son said, “Let’s watch that again!”