MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

LAFF 2009 Review: Ponyo

Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo is, very loosely, based upon the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Little Mermaid, but with some bizarre twists that mark it as a Miyazaki film. I’m a huge fan of Miyazaki’s work, but I’ve found in general that I very much prefer his films in the original Japanese with English subtitles than re-dubbed in English with American actors. There’s almost always something lost in the translation with Miyazaki’s films when they’re dubbed: cultural references lost, or the way in which particular characters say things, or the emphasis put on this or taken away from that.
I realize that American audiences often find subtitles difficult to swallow, and further realize that in trying to market Miyazaki’s films to younger audiences, studios are targeting a demographic that might not be able to read subtitles anyhow, so I appreciate the necessity of dubbing Miyazaki’s films for this market. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the end result, although I can hope that seeing dubbed Miyazaki might eventually serve as a gateway of sorts to encourage older kids and adults to explore Miyazaki’s work in the original Japanese.
Because I recognize that I have this preconceived prejudice against Miyazaki dubs, I’m not going to judge the film completely until I can see a subtitled version. This dubbed version, though, is the one that you and your kids are more likely to see, so it’s only fair that I share some thoughts about it.
Animation-wise, it’s as gorgeous as one would expect a Miyazaki film to be. I heard a lot of “oooohs” and “ahhhhs” from little voices around the Mann Village Theater during the closing night screening, and the adults around me seemed to be as delighted by it as the kids. As with much of Miyazaki’s work, there are some dark and scary moments, but I don’t think there’s anything in this film that’s too much for younger kids to handle (and certainly, there’s nothing that’s any scarier than the evil sea witch in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, who I thought was pretty terrifying).
Story-wise, I can’t say I liked Ponyo as much as my favorite Miyazaki films, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Tortoro and Howl’s Moving Castle, or even as much as Princess Minonoke and Spirited Away, which I rate very slightly below those. Ponyo for me falls below all those films in terms of story and even the animation itself, but it’s still so much better than just about any animated fare offered to families by anyone other than Pixar that I’d still recommend it.
Certainly I’ll want my own kids to see it, though I want them to see both the Americanized version and the Japanese dub. In the meantime, all this talk of Miyazaki makes me think the long holiday weekend might be a perfect time for a family Miyazaki marathon. Subtitled, of course.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon