Thoughts on Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea

Review: Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea
Twenty observations about the new Hayao Miyazaki movie, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea, which opened in the US this weekend:

1) A lovely romantic children's film that celebrated love and affection and a thrill for discovery. This movie was made for 5-year-olds and anyone who still connects to their inner child. It's Totoro with fish.

2) Hayao Miyazaki's personal story of his family, of his wife who sacrificed her career to raise their children. There is actually an essay in Starting Point that addresses this, and you'll be shocked to see how much of what Miyazaki wrote about appears in this movie.

3) Miyazaki's defiant defense of hand-drawn animation. I had to constantly remind myself: this was all made by hand. It's astonishing. Just watching the screen full of people and things moving around, in that wonderful watercolor-painted style.

4) I've never seen water used so effectively in any movie. It was like the waters were a whole cast of characters in and of themselves. Thick water, runny water, water that bubbles and gurgles like blobs, torrents of rain and wind.

5) Miyazaki understands the iconic (Scott McCloud's term) nature of animation. He understands the value of depicting symbolic action, or something "magical" that's from a child's point of view. Why Americans insist on taking animated images literally, I'll never know. The question is not, "What is this that stands before me?" but "What does this mean?"

One great image - the father's hands struggling to squeeze down Ponyo, to force the growing child into a baby again. I watched that and felt like shouting out, "Hey, that's my adolescence! I was there, man!"

Same thing with the crashing waves against the rocks early in the movie, and the fish-waves in the storm. I felt like I was seeing these through the eyes of a 5-year-old child. To Sosuske, the tsunami waves were living things, characters with eyes and faces. To the mother, they were just crashing waves to avoid.

6) All the scenes with Ponyo's sisters were stunning. I was completely spellbound by their movements, their rhythm and flow. In one scene, the entire screen was filled with them, and it was astonishing to admire the artists' skill. In another scene, they grew into a more humanoid form, and I realized that they look just like their mother.

7) There's a moment during the storm when the old women are sitting in wheelchairs, watching out the windows. They appear so sad, so lonely. They have no family, their bodies are failing, and the workers at the nursing home are treating them like, well, the way elderly people are typically treated by the young. I didn't think the attendant, Lisa's co-worker, was mean or cruel; this was a carelessness of the young.

These scenes of the old women only made me feel more frustrated with Pixar's Up than ever.

8) Hokusai's paintings appear to be quoted in this movie. That similar moment in My Neighbors the Yamadas springs to mind, only more beautiful and colorful.

9) The title sequence is spectacular. It's an open celebration of traditional cel animation. Have you noticed shots where some objects (boats, buildings) have slight shadows behind them? I was reminded of that weird "shadow" effect in cel-drawn cartoons, where the cels aren't completely flat against the background when photographed. Is there a word for that? It was remarkable to see that effect, a mistake, really, appear in a Miyazaki movie.

This is a movie that celebrates hand-drawn animation, and it deliberately throws the gauntlet at the feet of the cgi programmers. So your machine can render water? Top this!

10) I felt the star of the first half was not Sosuske or Ponyo, but Lisa, the mother, the Wife, the Miyazaki Heroine in Blue. She dominated her scenes. The second half of the movie belonged to Sosuske and Ponyo.

11) I want one of those little boats! Can you really run a boat on steam power like that?

12) I knew Miyazaki dealt with pollution of the earth in this movie, but when I saw the scenes of dredging the ocean, with its endless volumes of garbage and plastic, I wept. This is not something sprung from the director's imagination. This is real life. If anything, the "plastic ocean" is worse.

It's no wonder Miyazaki prays for the tsunami to sweep the city away.

13) Speaking of which, Miyazaki sticks his apocalyptic revenge fantasies into the middle of a children's movie. And it works. How does he get away with that?

14) This movie is a celebration of water; not water as a resource, or a commodity, or a landfill; but water as a miracle.

Now I'm thirsty and deeply worried about the global water supply.

15) John Lasseter's Disney dub is superb. I was amazed. I'll have to watch a couple more times, and see the movie in its Japanese soundtrack, but I couldn't think of anything that was wrong or misplaced. They even kept the honorific names, like -san.

Despite the famous names of the child actors, they played their roles perfectly. In five years, Miley Cyrus will be in and out of rehab, broken by the child celebrity machine, because that is what the machine is designed to do. This business grinds up human souls and hurls them into the sea like plastic. There is also a negative side.

16) I think if long red hair and '60s striped mod suits make a comeback, Peter Max should get royalties.

17) I think adults need to get away from this obsession with having to explain everything. Life is not an episode of CSI. Ponyo opens with the man in the Peter Max suit pouring elixirs from tall jars into the ocean deep with something that resembles a turkey baster. Why is this? What is he doing? What is in these magic elixirs? I don't have a clue and I don't care. I also don't want to hear pseudo-scientific arguments about that moon in the sky, that giant woman in the water, or how that particular marriage works out.

18) The ending felt anti-climactic, and very abrupt. Miyazaki ends his movies the way John Lennon ends side one of Abbey Road. Steady...Steady...Wait for it...Stop here! We're done. In his movies, the final scene is pretty arbitrary, anyway. It's just something you must make your peace with.

Miyazaki usually places his climax earlier in the film, before the final scene or two. It's largely due to the way he makes movies, which is incredibly hectic, seat-of-the-pants, almost completely improvised after the first act.

19) I was reminded of Totoro in some moments, like Ponyo running around the house, and the second Panda Kopanda, with its flooded house. And the spectacular action sequence of Ponyo and her sisters rushing from their underwater home to the surface, an ocean of water and fish in an exuberant explosion, directly quotes the climax from Hakujaden, Japan's first color animation movie from 1958. Now that I think about it, Hakudaden does share a certain sensibility with Ponyo, with its innocent romance and magical father figure.

20) The "remixed" Disney version of the Ponyo song is fake, processed, Autotuned mud. I reflect on the popularity of such "music" and weep for the mindless fools who consume it all. But I'm a child of the punk-rock revolution, and this sort of thing kind of goes against our religion. That said, this "song" only plays during the second half of the closing credits. The normal version of the Ponyo song - just the children singing - plays during the first half (but strangely enough, still with Autotune - I have to laugh at this).

Oh, and did you notice that Hayao Miyazaki's name appears buried deep among the staff members? Naturally, he appears as a pig, but he does not fly a plane, nor have long talks with Robert Westall.

Should I mention once more how breathtaking the visuals in this movie are? The color design is simply smashing. And should I mention again the personal elements of Ponyo? Hayao Miyazaki has truly become the Fellini of our age.

He appears to be making peace with his family, and this worries me when I realize his age. Most of his peers have retired or died. I hope he continues to make wonderful movies for years and years and years, but this is greedy of me, and I know it. Ponyo is a story told by an old man to a young child, and he celebrates both. And they join together and dance and imagine faces on the ocean waves.

Technically, there are more than 20 observations about Ponyo in this essay. But if I actually sat down and counted them all, I'd have to change the title, and I really prefer keeping the title just the way it is. Besides, it's late and the adult part of the brain is no fun. It's the part of you that doesn't believe in candle-powered boats and goldfish that grow up to be little girls. Keep that part of yourself under armed guard at all times.


Anonymous said...

I personally thought the dub was pretty bad. I went home and downloaded the fansub and enjoyed it a lot more. I hope the American DVD will have both versions on it.
Also I had to plug my ears during that horrible second half of the credits song. What was the point of changing it? It didn't fit in at all and they should have left it alone

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I'd say plugging your ears is a good idea.

One question that will have to be asked is whether that "remix" did more harm than good. Disney thought they'd capture their tween market, but it offended so many anime and Miyazaki fans that there may have been a backlash. If the numbers for the weekend are disappointing (once again, Americans only shuffle into movies they're programmed to accept), there will have to be some hard questions asked. And that means bad things for Ghibli Freaks in America.

The DVD and Blu-Ray will include multiple language soundtracks. It has always been like this. Just pick the version you like and be happy.

Michael Sporn said...

I thought the dub too intrusive, They obviously directed the actors to flatten their emotions to try making it sound "Japanese." Actors like Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett were brilliant. (I love her odd accent - almost Eastern European.) Tina Fey, who really is not an actor, was dreadful. The children were wonderful; they were just children.

This film is certainly the best film this year, so far. Better than any animated film in the past five years. One of Miyazaki's best.

Dan Hamman said...

Some great observations here Daniel, especially the one that I completely overlooked, Miyazaki's marriage. The thing you said that excited me the most was Miyazaki's understanding of 'iconic' imagery. When I saw Ponyo, like every other person, I was stunned by the sea. The rolling waves that break into the sky are breathtaking. Like Scott McCloud said about iconic imagery, the less realistic it is, the more one can project their world, themselves into it. This is one of the most exciting things about the sea in Ponyo. We've seen the sea a thousand hundred times before in films, but not like this, not like how it was when we were children, and it was an alien landscape, as unfathomable and bewildering as the waves in this film. Damn I gotta buy the e-konte for this!

Now I can't wait for the documentary to come out (and get fansubbed). The Mononoke one was so brilliantly insightful and in-depth, a longer Ponyo one is bound to be better.

Anonymous said...

The remix was bad, sure. But it wasn't the reason why I didn't like the dub. I thought most of the voices sounded a lot more artificial in the english version. Also it might be nitpicking but I didn't like how they changed Sousuke's line when he was talking to Granmammare from "I'll love Ponyo whether she's a human, a fish, or inbetween" to "I love all the Ponyos"

Dave said...

The remixed Ponyo theme was horrible.

Why ?!! Who thought that was good ? (honestly, would they have tacked that on to the end of a Pixar film ... No. So what were they thinking here ?)

I really want to get the DVD to see it with the original language. I did not like the dubbed voices (I rarely do). I'll go see it again in the theater just so I can savor seeing it on a big screen one more time , but I expect to enjoy it more on DVD.

Chuck said...

I don't know what you mean by disappointing numbers... the movie didn't open in that many theatres. Here in North Carolina (Raleigh Durham area of over 1 Million people), it Ponyo was only open in 3 locations with one of those an art house theatre. Likewise, there was very little advertising for the movie. I don't remember seeing anything on TV nor was there a huge push outside of it (my children are the prime demos). Compare this with the Princess movie coming out which has a huge advertising budget and will be open on more than 3 screens.

HelloThere45 said...

How do you run a blog called "Ghibli Blog" and misspell the main lead's name the entire post? It's "Sosuke" according to official credits and "Sousuke" if you're a weeaboo. "Sosuske" is just wrong :)

Chandra said...

Interesting list Daniel! The scene that you mention with Ponyo's father trying to 'crush' her change was one of my favorite scenes as well. And as a parent it was particularly poignant and hysterical. The wordless scene at the start was stunning. I was surprised, but pleased to see that my daughter was quiet and absorbed during the entire film. The only question she asked (much later) was - Why did Ponyo fall asleep so much? And it was funny because all of us adults had a different answer! And finally, I think the point you bring up about the ending is interesting - how Miyazaki places the climax earlier in his film. I'll have to ponder that. Also, I know for me I always love a Miyazaki film even more with a second and third viewing so I'll definitely be seeing this one in the theatre again soon. And I just realized this is the first time I've seen one of his films on the big screen - it was magical!

Sean L. said...

I was unimpressed with the dub acting as well. Tina Fey in particular sounded dissappointingly un-enthused. But my standards of judgment for dubs are probably overly high, because I believe that the original version of any and all anime is always preferable to the dub. I'm extremely anxious to watch/hear the original Japanese Ponyo, and I have a feeling that when I watch/hear it, I can confidently add the movie to my list of favorites. But I don't support movie bootlegging, and I don't have a region-free DVD player nor can I afford one right now, so I'll probly just have to wait for the domestic DVD release. I must learn to master my patience...

Daniel, your thoughts covered all the right areas nicely. As for me, I was not uncomfortable with the "abrupt" ending. I revel in the fact that Miyazaki's narrative approach doesn't follow Western conventions about story structure. Like you, I adore the visual style of Ponyo. It truly transports you to a storybook world. I also have to bring up another "transportive" aspect, which is Joe Hisaishi's glorious music score--it's got to be his best work. It is truly ethereal and breathtaking. I can't help but listen to it all the time and get swept away in the melodies. It's Oscar-worthy. Is anybody else as in love with it as I am?

Geoff N said...

The weekend estimate for Ponyo is 3.5M in 927 theaters, good for 9th.

The average was $3782 per theater, which places it 5th out of the Top 10 films and 6th overall.

Hopefully it can maintain some legs.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Sean L. - I loved Joe Hisaishi's score. It was very Wagnerian. It was great that he presented a different sound to this movie, something new. Perhaps Miyazaki's creativity is brushing off on him?

And, of course, the Ponyo song is the catchiest thing ever. He absolutely deserves an Oscar; another reason why animation should be freed from its Academy Awards ghetto. The wretched Disney remix shall never be spoken of again.

I must be fair about the dubs, and I think John Lasster's dub was as good as was possible. He is the only one who's ever made an anime dub that's worth hearing. I always prefer the Japanese soundtrack, but I'm glad if I can show the movies to small kids without cringing. Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl, and Ponyo are all excellent.

I scanned through the Japanese-language version of Ponyo on my computer this morning, just to check out a few lines here and there, and the Disney soundtrack is very faithful. Remember that one must not only translate the script, they must lip-sync the words properly AND make them flow naturally. This is an almost impossible challenge. Steven Spielberg's people came through.

@Chandra - One of the great joys of Miyazaki's iconic images is the way we all interpret them differently. I get the feeling that the Ghibl animators spent a long time just sitting patiently and observing small children.

HeloTherr54 - What? Me fail English? That's unpossible!

@Dave - Don't let your preference for soundtracks keep you away from the theater. Studio Ghibli is meant to be seen on the big screen. Ponyo especially so. You may not get another chance. Go twice and consider your obligation fulfilled.

@Michael Sporn - You'll love the Japanese soundtrack when you get the DVD and Blu-Ray. I find the good performances in the Disney dub drown out the others. I hear Liam Neeson's voice in my head, and Frankie Jonas, and no one else.

Ponyo is the best movie of the year. This is what an ideal movie should be, a visual spectacle with heart. After I came out of the theater, I walked around the area for a while, observing small children and the trees. I felt like I was in Ponyo's world.

I think the "magic" of Miyazaki is his ability to depict the beauty of everyday life. Ponyo may be the happiest movie he's made since My Neighbor Totoro. He even makes his apocalypse seem fun.

Unknown said...

I was thrilled when the Studio Ghibli logo appeared on the screen. It was as exciting as seeing A Long Time Ago... for the The Phantom Menace--even though the rest of the film disappointed.

17) I think adults need to get away from this obsession with having to explain everything.
I sat between my 5 yo and 10 yo boys in the theater. They love the Miyazaki films and chanted "Ponyo" the whole time we were buying our tickets. The 5yo constantly turned to me to ask what was happening during the film. He loved it, though and quickly fell into silence and laughter. The 10 yo appreciated the storytelling and the amazing underwater scenes.

We all left the theater happy.

What more could we ask for?

hjg said...

Ponyo opened in my country, Argentina, three weeks ago; spanish dub. Good response from the critics, poor response from the public; as it happened in Europe, mostly, it seems to me.
(Of course, here the publicity was much more modest than in USA)
I liked it (saw it twice), our dubbing was tolerable, the theme song was also dubbed, but only the vocals (BTW, I've done a solo guitar version). What bothered me most about the dubbing was Lisa calling Ponyo's mother "Mother Nature"... is that in the original (or the english dub?).
The video quality seemed just right; but I noticed a abrupt change in color saturation, about when Lisa's car is found... (it was not the cinema, perhaps a transfer problem).
I agree with most viewers, in that it's not the best from Miyazaki and it has some evident shortcomings in the storytelling. But I don't care much about that, I love Miyazaki even with his shortcomings. The movie is fully and unmistakably Miyazaki's, and that is what matters.
And I think that the scene of Ponyo running over the waves (with all that surronds it, including the music, the storm, the car) can well be one of the most beatiful from Miyazaki (to be paired with the train ride in Spirited Away and the bus-stop scene in Totoro); and that is surely something.

asuka said...

on the one hand: ponyo did well opening weekend as a foreign film, and compared with other miyazaki movies released on the big screen in the u.s.
on the other hand: to do so much worse than the time-traveller's wife...
oh dear oh dearie me.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Now that the weekend is over, I think we can confidently say that Ponyo was a bust. The numbers are terrible and everyone knows it.

I saw the movie again today and dragged my brother along (my three sisters couldn't be found). The screen at the Eden Prairie multiplex was huge, which put a big smile on my face. And the small children in the audience were enthralled. Too much chatting, more so than Saturday in Edina. But they definitely loved the movie, and of course they recognized Totoro.

The downside? There were barely 20 people in the theater. And the audience was, again, almost exclusively parents with very young children. Disney's scheme to corral in the tweens with their pop stars and that Autotune atrocity was not a success at all. It was a disaster.

It will be a miracle if Ponyo breaks $10 in the US. I really don't know who to blame for this.

Serhei said...

Saw Ponyo and had enough thoughts to have to split them in two parts.

Interesting how right now we're seeing two throwbacks to animation forms that you'd have thought had been put away on the top shelf. We have Princess and the Frog, which is Disney returning to the old animated Disney musical thing (meh) and then we have Ponyo. Ponyo is very much a throwback in the sense of being plotted in a sketchy or minimal sort of way. Stuff is just there, and tedious exposition about what it is or why it's there is omitted. The plot exists to wrap together the characters' actions, as opposed to the characters' actions existing to advance the plot. This is a good thing, because we get to see a lot of pretty neat stuff; if we went into exposition mode on all of it the movie would take three hours.

So Ponyo is something like Le Roi et L'Oiseau meets Yellow Submarine meets... a Wagner opera? The approach to the ending strikes me as kind of romantic opera-ish. (And in an opera the plot of course exists to wrap together the arias, and viewers expect this as a matter of course.)

Apparently the print they gave our theater was the one that fell off the back of the truck, because whenever a panning shot happened the background turned into an unviewable vibrating blur. Thumbs down for that.

Serhei said...

... Ironically given Pixar's instrumental role in bringing Miyazaki's hand-drawn masterpiece to as many North American theaters as possible, one of the preceding trailers consisted of two minutes of Toy Story characters going "OOOH! 3D! 3D IS THE NEW AWESOME" Cringe, and talk about mixed messages. (Oh, and didn't you get the memo? Those things with the poking stuff out into the audience are annoying as hell even without the glasses. My personal hell is going to involve the Pixar dinosaur's behind jutting into the fourth wall most definitely.) 3D animation is a constant arms race... sigh. For better graphics, more realism, etc., etc., and the only foreseeable end is when they can duplicate live action.

The opening moments of Ponyo capture some of that fever of "more stuff in the frame! more details! more technology!" The difference is that the technical capability to do this film has existed for decades. All it takes is a pencil, good culture, and insane perseverance. (If Disney had the imagination and culture to come up with something like this they could have managed it with technology available in the 50s, or even earlier than that.) Whereas 3D animation advancement is just fueled by Moore's Law and the amount of staff that you can afford to sit down in front of a workstation with Maya.

Meanwhile Pixar's storytelling technology has been inching rather than rocketing forward because they're saddled with being a money maker in the Hollywood sense of the word. In the same 3-year-or-so production cycle, Pixar seems to put out maybe 15 to 30 minutes of genuine artistic exploration (e.g. the first 15 minutes of Up, the last quiet 15 minutes of Ratatouille), then they tack on Pixar formula to get a full length movie, and then add a short with DNA definitively taken from Bugs Bunny (cute, but done before, and does humanity need to throw so much computing power at this?). Meanwhile, Ghibli makes a museum short (we've already probably matched Up in terms of pushing the envelope), and then puts out Ponyo, which is a complete turnaround for Ghibli artistically - just like the previous 4 Miyazaki movies. Pixar's plodding along trying to convince the suits to let it make a little more art next time, and meanwhile Ghibli is zooming all over the place like a hyperactive Ponyo. Yes, I know I'm looking at numbers to justify a skewed perspective, but this is the same thing Hollywood producers always do (with money as opposed to minutes of art). With the difference that my sort of evaluation calls for more art to be made, and Hollywood's calls for a studio to keep running in place.

That was long and unedited. I'm not writing any blog comments at 10:00 PM anymore.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Well, Pixar has tried to bring Studio Ghibli to the masses. The masses just won't bite. Perhaps they've been too corrupted by stupid movies and loud noises. If you really want to feel your heart sink, check out the "top rentals" list at Rotten Tomatoes, and look at the critics' scores. It's just abysmal.

Ponyo absolutely requires multiple viewings to fully absorb. My second viewing was more enjoyable than the first, and I had a stronger grasp on Miyazaki's episodic narrative. The ending still feels somewhat anti-climactic, but it's kept very simple and iconic because it's a movie intended for small children.

Meanwhile, Transformers 2 raked in $400 million. More depressing news. I may just have to move to Japan just so I can be around others who appreciate Miyazaki's movies.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@serhei - keep up with the long posts. That's what the Ghibli Blog is here for.

Chris said...

Daniel, there's like suddenly a million posts all over your blog!

You're going to get all burned out and stuff!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Chris - No, I'm not burning out. I worked my tail off for this popularity. Even if it's only temporary, because of Ponyo, I enjoy every moment.

James said...

My take: liked it. It's got all the heart even though I'd agree about the criticisms with the illogical mechanics of the ending. Miyazaki continues his unique storytelling. He relies too much on magic if you ask me. Works fantastic as a film experience, though flawed if you try to make sense of things.

I can forgive the unexplained; I still don't care about how Porco Rosso became a pig but at least it makes some sense. But if the whole movie is filled with weird unexplained stuff, it just becomes more difficult to understand or relate to.

I can't relate to the world being in danger when the well of some magical ocean dude gets filled up inside a room marked "1907". I can understand the moon making the tides higher but what an odd connection.

The fujimoto character himself is hard to understand. On one hand, he wants to destroy the human world yet when ponyo's accident puts the world in peril, fujumoto freaks out. And he seems pretty nice to the old ladies at the end.

All this would be fine if he had a turning point, but there never really was one. The mother goddess did weakly convince him to let ponyo turn human (don't worry if ponyo fails to gain sosuke's love and becomes bubbles, after all we're made of bubbles too!), but that's a stretchy reason for fujimoto to accept all humans.

The visuals are strange too, why is the mother goddess so big and fujimoto small and dressed in this tacky suit? I hate the Miyazaki guys with long hair. In the Japanese version, sosuke always calls his mom by her first name. Weird!

The box office bust doesn't bug me too much, I feel like Miyazaki's movies are past his prime already. And am happy enough with the cult following. It's still a foreign film and Disney's already treated this a lot better than their other Asian foreign films.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of critics, I was watching "At the Movies" and the Turner Classic Movies guy, the same person who with John Lasseter introduced the Ghibli film showings on TCM, he watched Ponyo that week and surprisingly gave it a "Rent it" rating. He hated to rate it that way but he didn't understand it parts of it. The other host gave it a "See it".

Sean L. said...

About those box office numbers, I'm gonna look on the bright side. Ponyo will definitely end up being the highest-grossing Miyazaki movie in the US so far, and it's the first one to even get on the top 10.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

I have to admit, I'm really puzzled at all the grownups who are left confused by this movie. Does this happen when they read stories to their sons and daughters?

Ponyo was hugely successful in Japan. It's beloved by young and old, it made a staggering amount of money at the box office. And the Americans are just completely lost.

Why is this? Should I open up a "Daniel Answers All Your Questions" thread?

@James - James, here's how Fujimoto, the father, works out. He is disgusted with humanity, talks openly about destroying civilization, is obsessed with his work, is devoted to his wife, and loves children. Remind you of anyone?

Remember what Walt Whitman once said? "I contradict myself? So I contradict myself. I contain multitudes."

James said...

If any other artist made a movie with confusing elements, we'd call him a bad filmmaker. But since Miyazaki-san has proven himself such a genius at this art, when he does something confusing, it can be hard to consider it a mistake. But I don't see it that way.

I can appreciate random fantasy stuff like Disney's Alice in Wonderland, but making it as a dream did make it more palatable. And that craziness was for comical purposes. Some of the Miyazaki fantasy maybe is just too foreign.

While I'm sure there are life influences, I normally wouldn't read that deeply into the truthfulness in parallel of an artist's work and life.

But it would be terribly funny if Miyazaki and his wife were the parents with the common talent of animation, Goro is Ponyo trying to become an animator, Sosuke is the audience or maybe Suzuki.

Though I don't know whether Miyazaki's wife convinced Hayao that Goro would be able to make it as a director. But if the audience can truly love Goro he can become a real animation director. And then Goro kisses Suzuki in the end. lol

Or maybe it's more appropriate to make Miyazaki as the absent father, Goro as Sosuke (didn't someone remark that Goro looked just like that when he was young?), but that changes things up.

Flo said...

To lift your spirit (or crush it even harder?), the Ghibli situation here in Germany is much, much worse compared to the situation in the US. The date for a Ponyo opening is pushed back and pushed back and… you get the picture. I don't even know if I will ever be able to view this in a movie theatre. :-/

So I watched the fansub a few weeks ago.

I have to say even so I loved Ponyo, as I love each and every Miyazaki movie, in my personal Ghibli ranking I'd definatley place it behind quite a few other films. I loved Totoro, which is similar on many levels, much more. I don't exactly know why this is. Maybe I (being from the south of Germany) am more a forest and mountain type of person. I love the ocean but I find it hard to connect to it on a deeper level, a children's memory level, having just a few impressions of it from various vacations to the Mediterranean, not really a profound connection. The deep sea and its underwater life is a little alien to me.

asuka said...

you know what i hate? reviews that go on about how miyazaki's imagery is like something you'd see on drugs, etc.
it's like when people who say miyazaki is "just weird".
i think viewers are just so unused to seeing things that are genuinely original and imaginative.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@Florian - "To lift your spirit (or crush it even harder?)" - I love that! Haha! That's pretty much what I'm feeling this morning. Elation for the movie, frustration for the public, and anger at the Autotune.

I love what you said about the forests. After seeing Ponyo on Saturday, I walked outside among the trees for an hour, and marveled at the branches and the leaves and the vibrant life all around. This is actually something Miyazaki hopes to inspire; the kids are supposed to watch Totoro and Ponyo, then go outside and play in the rivers and the trees.

Playing outside...what a concept. Do kids even do that anymore? One third of American children are obese. That's absolutely shameful.

@asuka - I completely agree. Such cliches only reveal the critics' lack of imagination. It's a way of dismissing something without thought (ironic when evoking "mind expanding" drugs).

I am confused by all the confusion. We're just going to have to make a list of the things in Ponyo that are confusing everyone and answer them all.

@James - Miyazaki is a very personal filmmaker, and interjects elements of himself into his work. The family in this movie is indeed the Miyazaki clan, with Lisa and Sosuke as Wife (Akemi Ota) and Son (Goro).

Remember that Hayao Miyazaki presents his movies as a series of episodes, like episodes of Heidi. There is not one simple plot thread, but many story elements woven together.

asuka said...

yes - a discussion of things people didn't understand in ponyo! great idea.

it'll be interesting to see the easily answered questions (where maybe someone missed an explanatory image or line of dialogue) separated from the points in the film that are genuinely open, where there are different interpretations.

(as the other reader said about the question of why ponyo keeps falling asleep! my own take on that is both that ponyo gets worn out from the exertion of using her magic and also she's a little girl who needs a nap. which isn't even a distinction since little children are unruly and magical forces of nature: mei IS totoro! ^^)

Chris said...

You know a couple of days ago, I watched Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-up again for the first time in a long time. Since I saw it I've been running it through my mind, watching various scenes again, analyzing it, and trying to make sense of its density and allusiveness. In other words, for a person like me, I've been in seventh heaven.

Why does purposely confusing filmmaking instantly have to equal inferior filmmaking?

The way I see it, for a huge Hollywood movie for the masses (and I have no problem at all with huge Hollywood movies for the masses - they are fun), the plot has to be immaculately clear with all loose ends tied up neatly. People love to point toward alleged plot holes in Hollywood movies all the time and this is the litmus test for how well these movies are made. If you look at a lot of the big Hollywood successes in the last few years, The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Iron Man, and so on, none of them has nary an ambiguity. (Even The Dark Knight, which people will argue has a deeper complexity than the others is pretty straight forward in its interpretation.)

In the independent American cinema and in what many people dub "foreign" cinema (most anything outside of mainstream American cinema), the desire to please a large scale audience is much less. In this realm we have auteur directors who pursue their visions in order to tell a much different kind of story than a Hollywood money maker would pursue (and in some cases, no story at all). In France, Italy, Sweden, Japan, and many other places, artistic cinema is much more respected as an art form than in America where the much of the populace sees film as purely entertainment. There is much more acceptance (but not total acceptance, I should say) of less conventional narratives in these places.

Miyazaki Hayao lies on the border of these two worlds. On one hand, he makes movies for the whole family to enjoy that are supposed to be blockbusters (in the sense of a Japanese blockbuster). However, on the other hand, he is a unique artist who has a singular vision and follows what I've described above as auteur cinema. Because of that, his films bridge a gap between the conventional and the allusively artistic that Japanese audiences applaud (and he truly is universally revered and respected, not as a mere movie director, but as a true artist here in Japan), yet American audiences are perhaps greatly unaccustomed to this. As well-respected as they are, American films like Taxi Driver, A Woman Under the Influence, Days of Heaven, The Long Goodbye, and Eyes Wide Shut are not massively popular films in the United States. These examples (and many more) have very elusive narratives and casual viewers will feel quite perplexed as they watch. Do they fail as summer blockbusters? Yes, of course. Are they bad films?


Chris said...

(Continued from above)

As I watched Ponyo (and I have to say I'm a film lover, artistic films as much as popular films), I was so happy that so many things were left unexplained. It was so refreshing! I liked the ambiguity. Just imagine if this had been made by Americans for an American audience: Everything would have been rationalized. Character motivation would have been crystal clear. Most of all, the film would have been exclusively directed to its so called intended audience, young children, with a few contemporary adult jokes mixed in to give it "universal appeal."

With Ponyo we have a deceptively complex film (watch it again; you'll see what I mean) that can be enjoyed on one level by very young children and on another level by intelligent adults. Does that mean it's made for everyone? Well, in the case of the contemporary American audience, I'd say not at all. The American audience is not used to this kind of thing. Compare a truly great American animated film like Monsters, Inc. to Ponyo and you'll see a huge difference in storytelling and filmmaking techniques. One is made for its intended audience, the other made for its intended audience.

Now, of course, what I'm saying is a bit moot because Ponyo was marketed as a typical American summer movie. People cannot be faulted for having certain expectations and, consequently, not having those expectations met. I understand this, but I dearly want to say to people: please, please don't assume a confusing plot (or no plot at all) makes a bad film. This is most assuredly untrue.

Chandra said...

Hrm, I didn't find the way Fujimoto behaved to be confusing or contradictory at all. It's one thing to theorize about hate and destruction, but quite another when it all comes to pass. And while we often want one thing for our children they almost inevitably want something different entirely. There comes a time when all parents have to let go and let children follow their destinies - even if they might fail miserably and turn into sea foam ;-) I also think the sweetness of Ponyo's and Sosuke's relationship softened Fujimoto towards humans quite a bit. Sometimes those who are the most bitter about life and humanity can have the tenderest hearts (Mark Twain comes to mind). Of course this is all just my personal take and I could go on and on a bit more, but I won't ;-) Ack! I can't wait to see it again!

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@chandra - Mark Twain! That is a perfect example. I think Hayao Miyazaki shares some of his qualities.

What draws me to the Studio Ghibli movies is their rich tapestry of very human characters. I often get the sense that most characters in Hollywood movies are defined by a single character trait or mood, and complexity is rare. Everything has been steadily dumbed down to sell to the widest audiences, not just in America, but around the world. These movies are truly global, and I think they are often conceived that way.

Perhaps this insight is a key. Miyazaki and Takahata are grateful for the worldwide support for their films, but these are Japanese storytellers. Their movies are told to their audience, with all the nuance and depth of their cultures and traditions.

The idea of a fish that transforms into a little girl is more at home in Japan, where folk tales of Tanuki and foxes abound. Their Shinto and animist beliefs are also very present. Japan is more closely connected to their "magical" culture. Here in the West, our "magical" culture was done away with by the rise of Christianity, the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment. We're a far more rational, fact-based culture.

In Japan, Ponyo chooses to be human and transforms herself. But in the West, that's not good enough; we need explanations and reasons. And so we end up with Liam Neeson, once again, talking about midichlorians.

James said...

I hold the value that in the end, movies need to connect with audiences, not confuse them. Intentionally confuse an audience and that usually causes a disconnect. As much as I understand and respect that there are people who want to be confused, I am not one of them.

Fujimoto wasn't just theorizing the end of humanity, he was filling up that well of doom in the "1907" room (can anyone find the significance to the year 1907?). He's been trying to fill that well up for years! Add to that the confusion of what's supposed to happen when ordinary seawater is added. Let alone not knowing what the heck that magical stuff he's drinking anyway and what it's supposed to do.

I knew Fujimoto was a tepid non-threatening character since that's how he was portrayed but I do find people who contradict themselves to be rather confusing. This isn't San here, he barely shows any issues or struggle at all.

Original doesn't need to be weird.

Ponyo's sleepiness didn't bother me too much. She's just a sleepyhead. It's one of those things I don't care about to need explanation.

I can accept the concept of mysterious "God Warriors" that came from nowhere or even shapeshifting testicles. But when you combine loads of strange imagery with a series of inexplicably unfamiliar actions, I find it too unsettling.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@James - Okay, that's good! I'm honestly curious to know what's puzzling the Freaks about Ponyo, so this definitely helps.

I keep telling myself that I should start a weekly podcast, if only I could find a partner to do all the techie stuff. I'd definitely do a show on answering the Ponyo questions.

Does everybody have lots of questions about the other Studio Ghibli movies? I'm just curious, since, after all, I have a Ghibli Blog.

Now, when addressing Ponyo, we'll have to remember that Miyazaki-san made this movie for five-year-old children. He has stated that he created his story on their level, consciously omitting details that they wouldn't understand.

What sort of elixirs does Fujimoto use? How are they created? What are they made of? How do they work? These questions are deliberately avoided; Japan is much closer to its mythic past than the West, and I think that's the sensibility at play.

What Miyazaki aims to evoke in a child is awe, wonder and mystery. What is that and what makes it go? the child asks. I suspect the director wishes for the children to answer those questions themselves, to use their own imaginations.

Is this a copout? Perhaps. Children are able to accept a suspension of disbelief that adults cannot. They still see the world through the mythic lens. To a child, a roaring ocean wave really is a giant fish. Goldfish become girls, foxes become human, and tanuki play tricks for fun.

Hmm...I've managed to give a long answer without answering much at all. I'm a genius :)

Chandra said...

James - I agree that a connection with a film is necessary and purposeful confusion can be iritating and offputting (hello David Lynch). I really can totally respect that you didn't connect with this one. While I appreciate Princess Mononoke as a piece of art it's not one that I ever want to sit through and experience again. There I said it! And that is my husband's absolute favorite film! But, I also don't personally believe that Miyazaki purposefully alienates his audience or obfuscates his meaning. As for 1907 - I'd certainly love an answer, but it won't make or break my experience if I don't get it. I can see how the potions room seems a bit like a nutter stockpiling weapons, but that just wasn't quite how I took it. But if taken that way Fujimoto's reversal does seem confusing. But I guess in my mind it all still seemed a little abstract and who knows when/if he was actually planning on unleashing it on the world. Furthermore, he'd been disconnected from the surface world for so long that it was all just theory until his own daughter made a personal connection that he couldn't ignore. But, I promise I'm not trying to force you to see it from my point of view - just offering up a different perspective.

And, in my experience, Daniel is right regarding how children react to these films. The children in my theatre were all really delighted by this film. And my own 5 year old daughter is anxious to see it again. But then we can get into a discussion about whether children are appropriate judges for art and film ;-)

Chris said...

By the way, this is my own fault for using the words in my message, but I'd like to change the words "deliberately confusing" to "deliberately ambiguous". I think there's a big distinction. Confusing denotes lack of skill while ambiguous denotes craft.

Anonymous said...

With reference to the question you posed in point 11, Daniel, check out the above website for an explanation of how the steam boat toy works. I had the little tin ones from India. They are pretty cool. It was wonderful to see Sosuke living a child's dream of having a life-sized one.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@chris: "Deliberately ambiguous" is the perfect phrase. Hayao Miyazaki has always been instinctive storyteller, and an impulsive one, too. I think this is why he tells stories for children. They enable him to indulge this side to his personality.

Reading through Starting Point (please get this book, everyone!), I'm struck how, again and again, Miyazaki responds to the strict seriousness of working with Isao Takahata, on Horus and Heidi and Marco, by creating something freewheeling and carefree. Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, and Future Boy Conan are great examples. No doubt he felt the need to relax and create a "fun" movie after Howl's Moving Castle, which was quite dense and serious.

Ponyo is very much an animator's film. The story itself seems to take a backseat to the visuals, and there are so many silent moments that allow the drawings to take over.

@chandra: Your insights are thoughtful, as always. Your book blog is terrific, keep it up!

@anon: Thanks a lot! What a great find - I will definitely be posting about these toys today. I'm really serious when I saw I want one of those steam-powered boats. It was a toy that Miyazaki had when he was a child, and now that he is an animation film director, he gets to play with the boat again.

James said...

Brian Camp from Mobius Home Video Forum made an observation between the weird stuff in Ponyo and Totoro that sums my feelings up well:

"In TOTORO, you're gradually led into the Totoro world by the younger child, Mei. It takes time and we see it through her eyes. And, later, through Satsuki's eyes. And even the father, as he expresses reverence and awe at the tree in which the Totoros reside. We're not overwhelmed with unexplained detail right away. The characters are given time to react to the phenomena and signal how we, the audience, should react. In PONYO, we're plunged right at the beginning into this strange dude's undersea lab or whatever it is and we're asked to accept an awful lot of bizarre stuff right away without any explanation of it."

Totoro's strange but it's a little easier to understand/accept since his role is evident as a forest spirit guardian. Catbus also as a transportation bus. In Ponyo, who Fujimoto, Ponyo are and what their purposeful roles are aren't clear.

Who these characters are and what they're supposed to do as pertaining to the plot matters to me. I just need a sense of how that world, even a fantasy one, works. I'm not sure why this ambiguity is enjoyable.

Fun and carefree need not be strange and illogical. Children can be scatterbrained but are not always comfortable with such ambiguity. I'm sure we've all heard of a type of child who always asks "why".

Anonymous said...

Does the fact that I enjoyed it without needing to question it mean that I still have my inner child intact?
(I'd like to think so.)
I was sitting there in the theater, surrounded by kids probably not even in the double digits of years, on the edge of my seat enjoying every moment of the movie like I was there. I felt like a kid again, I felt like I had gained something back from my childhood or I had reconnected with the five-year-old in me that loved the ocean and climbed trees.

And I didn't need to understand everything to love the world Miyazaki created.
In my humble opinion, the story was simple and to the point. It was like the life of a child; not so complicated and full of mystery.

And I think that was the real point of the story.
Don't listen to me if you don't want to, it doesn't matter. I liked the movie, and I didn't need it all explained to me.
(My mom asked afterward how a goddess and a once-human could mate and make goldfish with faces. my reply: "magic".)

James said...

That's good you enjoyed it. I don't really want to take that away from anyone.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if you could very well have a similar kiddie audience experience in any popular kid movie like that G-Force hamster movie. There are kids who laugh at fart jokes you know.

Jason said...

Ponyo does not contain the word “end.” Instead, at the start of the film, Miyazaki gives us the caption: The Beginning. At first I thought this was a subtle joke by Miyazaki, considering that this is the man who has announced his retirement after his last three films, but soon realized that the film is about new beginnings, and the experience of watching it is akin to a rebirth. Miyazaki has crafted a piece of art that is so pure and innocent that while I was watching Ponyo every malevolent thought and action in my life was evaporated and all that remained was the pure optimism and hope of a beginning.

Read my full review at

Chris said...

I watched Ponyo again tonight (the Japanese DVD), and I noticed a little elusive nugget.

Let me give a little background first: At the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, the first room you enter after the main hall is a room dedicated to the history and evolution and technique of animation. It's a magical place. In the corner of the room is a giant film project in which you can see its internal workings. A looped animated film runs through this and at various points you can watch the individual images coalesce into animation. The film that runs through it is about five minutes long (if that), and the film is changed every half a year or so (I'm not really sure). The last time I was there the film showing was a really nice little picture. It started with sea life in a primordial ocean where sequentially some sea life becomes a fish and then the fish crawls from the ocean and develops feet and basically you have an evolution of life on Earth from primordial ooze, step by step, following a survival of the fittest type theme, until the life becomes a monkey which climbs a mountain and transforms into a human and joins with another human and then you have a man and woman standing together.

At one point in the gradual transformation, the creature becomes a salamander-like thing. I remember this film quite vividly as I watched it a few times (and on multiple visits), so when I was watching Ponyo this evening, a huge smile leapt across my face because as Ponyo and Sosuke are riding in their now large boat and Ponyo is falling asleep atop the boat, the same salamander from the Ghibli Museum film briefly crawls down one of the trees right of frame.

It was a neat little thing for me to see!

Morosan said...

For those who are puzzled by Fujimoto's "weird" appearance, this is yet another example of differing cultural sensibilities.

Fujimoto's character design seems to be almost a parody of the androgynous, emaciated, anglo manga types that Japanese girls supposedly go nuts for. Girl manga featuring long haired, flamboyantly dressed males sell by the thousands.

It is also Miyazaki's alter-ego on parade, akin to his tragic loner hero in Porco Rosso.

Daniel, is this too far off the mark?

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

@jason: I checked my copy just now to see for certain, and there is an "owari" and "the end" after the credits. I wouldn't take anything away from what you've said, because they are very good.

The thing about Miyazaki "retiring" is more urban legend than anything. Never worry, he will never retire, he will die at his desk, and his work will continue to be published for years afterword. Hayao Miyazaki is the most intense workaholic in the movie business.

@chris: That's great that you spotted a riff from the Ghibli Museum. I thought there were some elements that pointed back to Miyazaki's Yadosagashi short. Ghibli movies have lots of little riffs scattered about.

@morosan: Moro-san, I agree with you 100%. Am I the only one who thought the father was dressed well? I liked his '60s Swingin' London look. It was fairly close to the girls' romance comics style of Howl, and it fits into Miyazaki's Fellini circus atmosphere.

In Ponyo, Miyazaki seemed to appear as two characters - the two fathers. Very interesting.

Steve Spiegel said...

Hooray! I've finally seen Ponyo, so now I finally get to read what you've written on it. I'll be reading everything tonight.

Also, congratulations: you got Michael Sporn to comment on your blog!

Anonymous said...

There really are candle boats! I looked them up. That's what a put-put boat is. I never knew what it was before seeing Ponyo though.

And I am glad to read your #17, I always feel like a stupid little kid when everyone else comes up with these long deep explanations for everything and I'm just like "THAT FISH IS BIG!" :( I don't WANT the deep explanations, I want the big fish. I'm glad some other people feel like this and are not afraid to say so.

And I am very sorry, but I heard this was his last movie. Maybe not his last-last, but it is very near the end. Doesn't it seem like kind of an ending movie? Like, back to the beginning?

Anonymous said...

PS Oh, Daniel, I didn't read your comment before I posted! (I'm the above anon) Oh good, I hope you're right, I hope he never retires!

And Morosan, I think you're right... Fujimoto made me think of Howl. I think Miyazaki is fond of handsome characters like that, but doesn't feel the need to make them handsom. So Fujimoto turned out not-handsom, but still looking like that kind of character somehow. XD;;; That's how it seemed to me.

Toongirl said...

Supposedly Miyazaki & Kondo (also dealing with parental issues) are both making fun of themselves & taking themselves to task in the character of Fujimoto. I guess they figured there is nothing more funny and tragic-looking than an aging bishounen.

Anonymous said...

I HAVE SEEN PONYO SIX TIMES!!! And I cried silent tears a great deal of the movie every time, it was a beautiful experience of the heart!!!

I won't try to "over analyze" Ponyo or nit pick it to death. The dub was decent even to a person like me who only watches the Japanese dialog on my extensive (and legal DVD) anime collection.
Ponyo is an emotional experience of the heart, pure and simple. Don't try to think about it, just watch and accept it. I suspended my "logical adult brain" for the movie gave up thinking for it.

And for those who commented on Disney and the love affair with cheap CGI sight gag filled Pixar stuff; If Disney promoted this like they would with a Pixar release, then the American public would maybe say, "Why are we watching CGI crap with no real content when we can have hand-drawn animation with great stories?". At that point, the cheap to make CGI money machine would break apart and be cast into deaths of darkness where it belongs.
It could also alert people to the fact that anime is for the most part a superior medium to any American animation since "An American Tale". Just watch Haibane Renmei if you need any evidence of that.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thanks, everybody, for all the terrific comments. I really couldn't add anything more.

A short blurb on Anonymous' comment about the "Hayao Miyazaki Retirement." Don't worry, no such thing has happened. This is a funny little urban legend. Perhaps it just means that Miyazaki's work is so beloved by fans, especially us Yanks who were so late to the party. But people always gossip about this or that movie being "The Last."

Rest assured, Hayao Miyazaki will never retire. Even after he dies, his sketches, plans, and half-finished ideas will be published or adapted into films. He'll be hard at work on his next film project in no time, if he hasn't already began early story ideas.

Wait until next summer, when Isao Takahata's new movie comes out. That's when you'll hear rumblings about the next Ghibli project.

Alestane said...

> 11) I want one of those little
> boats! Can you really run a boat
> on steam power like that?

Yes you can, it's called a pop-pop engine:

(the French explanations are mode detailed)

If you do a search with "pop-pop engine" you'll find lots of info on it.

There is even one made specially to look like the one in the movie:

(careful: not all toys based on Sosuke's boat really use a pop-pop engine, but this one does.)

zoomfrog said...

The challenge Ghibli faces ( in my opinion ) is to take the torch from Miya-san and live up to his standard....and even surpass him.

Ponyo is delightful....but is full of weak animation drawings and timing errors ; to me it suggests that parts were either rushed or had less careful supervision. The eventual decision to allow Ponyo to remain human seemed to be owed a bit more story importance.

I wish everyone at Ghibli the best...the world definitely appreciates your hard work.

francois said...

9) Have you noticed shots where some objects (boats, buildings) have slight shadows behind them? I was reminded of that weird "shadow" effect in cel-drawn cartoons, where the cels aren't completely flat against the background when photographed.

Yes, they gave me the same impression. You can see it clearly in this still:
(Originally from this page but no longer there for some reason.)

greentea said...

Finally, FINALLY I've seen Ponyo!.. Prepare to read.

Yes, it was good. It seemed different for Miyazaki to me, like maybe it had influences of.. Disney? Or perhaps it was just the younger animators he was putting more responsibility on. The animation seemed more fluid to me than usual.

The kids did good as the voices, especially Frankie Jonas. The Ponyos were adorable (I like squirt-in-your-face goldfish Ponyo better the human ham-loving Ponyo). And I liked the mom voiced by Tina Fey, I don't see anything wrong with her performance. She seems like someone who's just very adventurous, and didn't let motherhood get in the way of that. In this world, it seems there's nothing to really fear or protect children from.

It's the reverse with Fujimoto. Fujimoto was.. amusing, I wish there'd been more about him. I really liked the comment on him being a freakshow with the weedkiller (read my mind, haha). After all his attempts to get Ponyo back, I wish he didn't just let her go just like that in the end.

I think Ponyo is the most beautiful-looking of all Miyazaki's films. And yes, whoever said the music score is great, I agree. Give Joe Hisaishi a hand (better yet, an award).

As for remix song.. OK, I'll just say it, I don't think it was that bad. They only had it on during the credits where the crayon space drawings were shown, and I think that's at least the most fitting place for this tencho remix song to appear.

It's a beautiful film, so much imagination, and a world of simple, contained innocence. Why didn't Ponyo get to be a nominee in the awards again?

Tofu said...

I can't beleive the whole movie was mad by hand !just wow!

Unknown said...

"It's no wonder Miyazaki prays for the tsunami to sweep the city away"

and now his pray already come true...

Bellsprout said...

Thanks for the neat post on your observations. I loved watching Ponyo. I feel like I notice something else, or, just make another connection to my life each time I see it. When I went to see Ponyo in theaters, it was just me and my brother, and an old Japanese couple. It was a magical experience that I'll always remember, seeing Miyazaki's films enjoyed and shared by the young and the old.

Njord said...

Loved the movie, as per usual with Miyazaki, but did anyone else think Lisa could be a bit... neglectful as a parent, what with leaving two small children alone on a cliff in the middle of a huge storm? Or the way she drives like a lunatic with her son in the car?

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