Ponyo Floods the Pangea Room

Ponyo Floods the Pangea Room
Ponyo Floods the Pangea Room
Ponyo Floods the Pangea Room
Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea is an outstanding movie on many levels, but what is really striking is how brilliantly drawn and animated it is. Clearly this was conceived as a showpiece for all the qualities that make hand-drawn animation great; with Ponyo, Hayao Miyazaki throws the gauntlet at the computer graphics programmers.

What really struck at me is the sheer variety of visual effects and motifs. Radical shifts in visual style is more of an Isao Takahata trait, and that's because Takahata himself does not draw. He treats animation like a vast buffet to sample. Miyazaki's style is much more streamlined; he has his own way of drawing that has been developed for years.

With Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki developed a new interest in surrealism, and over the next decade that Fellini side has fully blossomed. Now, at last, with Ponyo, we are seeing those instinctive impulses completely take over.

This scene in Ponyo is a perfect example, and it's a favorite scene of mine. This is the scene where Ponyo, having freed herself from her bubble tank, inadvertently triggers a massive flood through her home, and leads her at the door to her father's mysterious Pangea room.

What happens in this room is something wholly unique in the Miyazaki canon. I've never seen anything quite like this from anime. I guess the sloppy cartoon look of Crayon Shin-Chan would be close, but Ponyo is far more lush in its color. Here is a scene where the artists and painters completely took over.

I absolutely love the colors in this shot, the blues and greens and browns, so lush and saturated. It's drawn as a fish lens effect (!!), which already gives the room a distortion effect. The water and bottles are eager to dance. I'm reminded of the dark caverns from an Atari Lynx game called Todd's Adventures in Slime World, its lush illuminations.

Notice the freewheeling hand-drawn quality, almost improvisational in its lines. This is not what we expect from Miyazaki anime. It's a very iconic cartoon style. Now watch what happens as the water creaks and groans inside. The flood reacts against the mystery elixir inside the well, and all hell breaks loose.

The wild colors just bubble and gurgle forth and it's a spectacular sight. The very look of the room becomes more iconic, more freely flowing. This is a technicolor meltdown and it's terrific.

Poor funny Ponyo is outside, barely holding on to the door handle. She herself has become more simple, more iconic. She's turned into a Kermit the Frog scribble This is one of my favorite shots in the film, and I'm definitely going to stick it here on the blog's homepage somewhere. Look at how action is depicted in the fewest possible lines. It's remarkable in still photos and wonderful in motion.

Ponyo's appearance in her Kermit state (heh heh, she really does remind me of Kermit the Frog) is iconic and mysterious. I'm reminded of Miyazaki's advice to his animators when depicting Totoro: draw the eyes so you cannot tell what he is thinking. There's a slightly distant look to these eyes. Ponyo's motions might be more expressive, but she shares the same eyes as the mindless fish. With a few skillful pencil strokes, we can see that these are peers. Ponyo really does stride between the two worlds - not quite fish and not quite human.


Anonymous said...

Really love your blog, waiting for Ponyo to come out on dvd so I can watch it w/o dubs.
Had a question for you, this site
is selling 17 of the Ghibli DVD's for around $25, figured they are bootlegged b/c just 6 from Amazon are about $200. Tbanks

Doug said...

Excellent thoughts Daniel! A really good write-up and analysis of this scene. I loved this moment too and can't wait to look at it again after reading this.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@anon: That DVD set is most definitely a bootleg. There have been bootleg boxes of the Studio Ghibli films before, and I can assure you, these movies are only commercially available seperately.

Don't be suckered in by the low price. These bootlegs are typically of very low quality. One box set stole from Video CD's, not DVD. You get what you pay for.

@doug: Thanks for all the kind words. Squirrel!

J.R.D.S. said...

"Not quite fish and not quite human…" I'm reminded of course by that of an original folk tale recounted by Ursula K. Le Guin in Always Coming Home (it's all I've read of that book, when I happened to come across it in the library and randomly opened it to a page), a character in which is described as, not exactly that, but "sometimes more like a fish, and sometimes more like a girl." Maybe this is the obligatory Le Guin reference in Ponyo (like the name of Chihiro being inspired by the "thousand echoes" that a sound made in the labyrinth of Atuan is refracted into)? And henceforth this leads us to the other animation that reminded me so much of that story and that character: JANKOVICS Marcell's Fehérlófia, the Son of the White Mare, who is sometimes more like a boy and sometimes more like a horse, in particular in the opening scene of the film, viewable here:

Hector N. said...

I'm loving this blog, I think I can appreciate animation even more. thank you for putting so much passion to this site.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@jrds: That's a very interesting idea. Ursula le Guin was a great influence on Miyazaki many years ago. I always thought that influence was most closely felt in Nausicaa, but it would be nice to think there are more.

I think these motifs in Miyazaki's work - the changing of the name, the long, dark tunnel, a person caught between conflicting identities - are very universal, archetypal themes. These are themes to all the mythologies of the world. What this suggests to me is the universal nature of Miyazaki's work. Even though these are Japanese films, intended solely for that audience, they can be understood and welcomed by people throughout the world.

Great points.

@hector: Thank you so much. If you enjoy the Ghibli Blog, then help support it by sharing posts, leaving comments, and telling your friends. We're all equal players in building this community.

More Ghibli Blog Posts To Discover