Wan Wan Chushingura - The Ponyo Connection
(Note: This blog entry is my daily contribution to the Japanese Cinema Blogathon. Please click on the above banner to donate for the victims of the Japan earthquake & tsunami. The blogathon continues all this week.)
Toei Doga's 1963 animated feature, Wan Wan Chushingura, is a terrific cartoon adaptation of the fabled Japanese tale of the 47 Ronin, told with dogs and cartoon animals and one really mean tiger. Sadly enough, this film is only known in the West as the first movie that Hayao Miyazaki worked on, after being hired to the studio in 1963.
Miyazaki began as an in-betweener, and at this point in his career, he's basically working in the mail room. He only gives Wan Wan Chushingura a passing mention in his memoirs, Starting Point, lamenting how his superiors would correct his drawings so much, that they were completely unrecognizable from what he drew. So while this is another entertaining classic from the Toei stable, it's more of a footnote for the Miyazaki biology.
Or, that's what I thought. I sat down to watch the film this evening, a terribly worn-out VHS copy of the Spanish-dubbed version, Rock el Valiente. One key scene managed to leap out at me, and it completely took me by surprise. I've snapped some screenshots as best I could - you can see how lousy the picture quality is on this old tape - so you can judge for yourself.
In this scene, the dog hero, Rocky, has been knocked into a barrel and thrown into the open sea. Caught in a storm, he struggles to hold onto the barrel as he approaches shore. As the waters strike the cliffs, Rocky's barrel is broken into smaller pieces, Rocky hangs on for dear life.
A young girl stands at the top of the cliff. She sees something in the water and carefully climbs down the rocks. She reaches the shoreline, and seeing the helpless puppy in the water, she tries to rescue him. Resisting the crashing waves, the girl successfully grabs the puppy and drags him onto the shore, and to safety. The scene ends in a warm embrace.
This scene just leapt out at me. Ponyo! This is almost identical to the early scene in Ponyo where Sosuke rescues Ponyo from the ocean, trapped in the glass jar. Even the cliffs look quite similar. It's not an exact shot-by-shot remake, so I don't know if I'd place it into the "riffs" category. But this does appear to me that Ponyo used the similar scene from Wan Wan Chuushingura as an inspiration. And when we remember this was also Miyazaki's first animation film all those years ago, the realization strikes. It makes a lot of sense.
I'll leave it for you to decide if these two "on a cliff by the sea" scenes match, or if I'm just reading into things. It would help tremendously if we had a DVD fansub to watch; this Rock el Valiente torrent was damned near impossible to find. And the picture quality is just dreadful...Ah, the good 'ole days of anime fandom!