Miyazaki’s Ponyo Swimming with Raves

While audiences in many territories flocked to see Chris Nolan’s Batman epic this past weekend, family moviegoers in Japan lined up to experience Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, (Gake no Ue no Ponyo), the latest 2D-animated feature by Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki. According to Variety, the film’s distributor Toho reported the film brought in 83% of the 2001 hit Spirited Away, which holds the B.O. record for the Japanese market with $284 million. However, the film only took in about $9.3 million on Friday and Saturday’which means its maximum take for the weekend would be around $17.5 million.

Ponyo, which was released on 481 screens on Friday in Japan, centers on a five-year-old boy’s friendship with a ‘girl-fish’ with human face who wants to be human and ventures out of her underwater world. The boy’s character is based on Miyazaki’s own son Goro. Miyazaki, was reportedly directly involved in many aspects of the animation himself, preferring to draw the sea and waves himself. With a plot that echoes Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved The Little Mermaid fairy tale as well as a traditional Japanese folk tale, the movie received positive reviews from critics.

‘Miyazaki revisits themes from other, more adult-focused films, such as humanity’s destruction of the natural world, and nature’s revenge on its human tormentors,’ wrote Mark Schilling in Japan Times. ‘Also, the animation is Miyazaki’s familiar mix of the realistic and fantastic, with extinct sea creatures swimming contentedly alongside their contemporary’and accurately rendered’descendants. In other words, there is still plenty to engage the mind and eye, as well as keep the small army of Miyazaki explicators busy.’

Ponyo found itself swimming fin to fin with the 11th Pokemon feature, titled Diamond & Pearl the Movie: Giratina and the Sky’s Bouquet: Shaymin which opened on the same day in Japan. Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama, Shaymin took in a respectable $7.3 million.

Disney hasn’t announced specific plans to release the latest Miyazaki masterpiece Stateside, but Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy (Persepolis) are listed as the film’s U.S. producers. Given the excellent nature of the relationship between Miyazaki and Disney’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, chances are we won’t have to wait too long to see this latest offering from the 67-year-old anime master.

To see a trailer for Ponyo, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpQ2NCSMHWY