Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea - Clip #6

Alright, everyone, here is the sixth and final clip from Miyazaki's latest Studio Ghibli movie, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea.  I hope you have enjoyed watching these as much as I have.  My deepest thanks to BVI France for providing those on YouTube, and, of course, Ghibli, for not leaving samurai swords inside my mailbox. :P

Since we are dealing with Miyazaki, the great master of action cinema, it's only fitting that we close out with a great action scene.  I don't think there's a filmmaker alive who can move things as fluidly as Hayao Miyazaki.  Pay close attention to the lines of movement, to the way actors on the screen flow and move.  Pay attention to the role the camera plays in portraying action.

When watching this, I'm also struck by how Chaplin-esque this all is.  Ponyo could almost work as a silent movie, without any spoken dialog.  Interestingly enough, one of Miyazaki's 2006 short films for the Ghibli Museum was entirely free of speech.  Instead, voice actors performed the sound effects, the rushing of water, the flowing of wind.  It was a brilliant experiment, one that closely tied animation not only to its roots in the silent film era, but Japan's Manga Eiga roots in the world of manga.

For animators here in America and the West, the key lesson lies in the world of comic books and graphic novels.  American animation is built upon very different principles from Japan, but storyboarding, framing, directing - these are crucial elements of action.  Animation depends upon movement within and without the picture frame.  You must paint with your eye on the whole canvas.

Oh, one more thing?  Old people!  2009 must set a record for senior citizens in animation.  How's that for good timing?  It's high time Hollywood discovered 14-year-old boys aren't the center of the universe.


Ulrik said...

Good job on finding these clips (love #6). Can't wait till the Japanese Blu-ray disc gets released...

serhei said...

Movie music really makes this one work, I think. Try watching the scene with the sound muted, and notice how right where the action would get raw and punchy with sound the scene goes drab. One cut becomes equal to another, and the straight cuts (especially shore -> submarine, but also when the climb up the stairs is abbreviated) fly right over our heads without the music to orient us. Having an extremely competent - one of the very best - movie composers at his back Miyazaki has that extra breathing room to lay out the scene, insert straight cuts, and make the mood turn on a dime from pastoral to menacing.

You could write an entire paper on how the principles of film scoring are analogous to the principles of animation. Having some kind of music that is matched to the action is essential when you need to sustain a flow of action over several straight cuts and sudden mood shifts - in an animated movie, and in any kind of movie. Because the abrupt transitions don't let you have anticipation and follow-through done by the animators, you need to have anticipation and follow-through done by the music. When people neglected to do so it resulted in jarring cuts - and some viewers would mistakenly blame the editor who spliced the film together!

Of course, this is all my armchair understanding of things. I just know what I like and know when I see it.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Very good observations all around. When it comes to the music, it helps that Joe Hisaishi has worked almost exclusively with Miyazaki. Their styles match one another very nicely, and it's one of the more remarkable pairings in the movies.

A skilled movie director will, of course, understand the usual musical cues, and are able to play off your expectations. I was just watching Hitchcock's "Sabateur," and the climax, atop the Statue of Liberty, made brilliant use of sound. Even though North by Northwest essentially has the same ending, I felt Sabateur to be more gripping, more compelling.

Hollywood directors would be sure to understand the proper use of music and sound in their movies. Instead of merely assaulting us at every second - something Pauline Kael called, "Bam Bam Pow" filmmaking - treating the audio as an equal partner would yeild better movies.

And as for the Blu-Ray release of Ponyo, I'm greatly looking forward to it. All of the features from the deluxe DVD edition - including the 12-hour NHK documantary - will be included. I'm especially looking forward to the film's watercolor storyboards, which promises to look spectacular in hi-def. Let's hope that all these features appear in the eventual US release.

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