Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008)

Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008)

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.

Movie Review: Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008)
Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea (2008)

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.

Sonic Jam 1997 Print Ad

Print advertisement for Sonic Jam on Sega Saturn

If Sega was famous for anything in the 1990s, it was their advertising campaigns, which portrayed them as teenage rebels against the stodgy, old-fashioned children of the Nintendo era. It was enormously successful for the Sega Genesis, thanks to blockbuster hits like Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage and EA Sports. The Saturn era, however, proved to be far more turbulent and difficult, as the company lost their “cool” mojo to new rival Sony, whose Playstation became a global success.

Sega managed to regain their footing late in the Saturn era, circa 1997, with confident advertising campaigns that hailed back to the Genesis glory days. Nobody ever understood the logic behind the mid-90s “alternative” bent of those early Saturn commercials, which were far too arty and abstract to make any sense (it certainly never helped that the first wave of Saturn games were notoriously glitchy, and combined with the system’s May 1995 launch, all but destroyed the console’s reputation).

This print ad for Sonic Jam is an example of one of the better attempts. The layouts are professional and clean, communicating its message clearly, but without the dopey teenage humor that plagued the latter 16-bit era. The Genesis teenagers are now Saturn college students, and Sega finally managed to understand that. I suspect Sega’s new CEO Bernie Stolar was responsible for this change, hiring new advertising agencies to refocus their aim. Stolar has been portrayed as a cartoon super-villain by the Sega diehards all these years, the scapegoat for Saturn’s failures. By 1997, the Saturn was all but finished in the United States, and there was damned near nothing Stolar and his people could do about it. Radiant Silvergun and X-Men vs Street Fighter wouldn’t have changed squat.

Anyway, this is a good ad, like all the latter Saturn print ads. Once again, Sega of America was being dealt a poor hand with the lack of any proper Sonic the Hedgehog title, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. Sonic Jam was as good as things were going to get — a suicidal move in the post-Super Mario 64 landscape.

Sonic Jam is an excellent greatest-hits package, although the conspicuous lack of Sonic CD was, and remains, a glaring omission. I still cannot understand why Sega left out one of their finest classics. I also cannot understand why the 3D “Sonic World” — a fully 3D polygon stage featuring Sonic in his native environment, jumping on platforms, wading through rivers, and grabbing elusive gold rings — was never expanded into a full-size videogame. Sonic Team had limited resources, of course, which were already stretched thin with NiGHTS: Into Dreams and Burning Rangers (and the bonus stages in the otherwise forgettable Sonic 3D World, which they are credited for creating). Frankly, they should have moved Burning Rangers to the Dreamcast and given us Sonic on the Saturn. This 3D world is terrific, and if it were only expanded just a little, if only a few enemies were placed here and there, if only we were given a side dish instead of a full meal…if only, if only.

Sonic Jam is left as the great “what if” of its era. Sega clearly understood that they seriously dropped the ball by leaving their mascot off the system, leaving Sonic in the hands of the American STI crew, who famously bungled through the Sonic Xtreme project (it had some promising ideas, but don’t kid yourself, it would have been a terrible videogame if released). But that’s Sega for ya. It’s a miracle they were ever successful in the first place.

Welcome to DT Media

This is the very first post of our new website. Hello and welcome to all to DT Media, an indie publisher of print and digital media.

We are still working to put this site together, mostly by adapting one of the demo layouts of this particular theme. That is why DT Media looks like a fashion site. I assure you that things will change fairly quickly. My website experience has so far been exclusive to Blogger and Dreamweaver, so it’s an interesting change to WordPress. Translation: I have no idea what the heck I am doing, but it’s too late to hire a web designer, so we’ll just do the best we can for now.

Some questions: who are we and what do we do? Answers: DT Media is the name of my indie publishing label, and the home to my library of books, which will soon be available in ebook and paperback. In addition, I also publish a zine called Bocanada which is dedicated to pop culture and the arts. Digital copies of the first issue are given as a free gift to everyone who subscribes to our mailing list. Finally, I am also a blogger, and this site will include that as well.

We will be launching with three full-length book titles: Zen Arcade, Pop Life, Greatest Hits. The pages for these books, as well as release date and availability, will appear on the site shortly.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Daniel Thomas MacInnes, I am a writer and artist with over 20 years’ experience. I began writing and publishing fanzines in high school and college, then moving to freelance writing assignments. After spending some time in and out of college, I built my own website as a home for my writing and artwork, and that website lasted for eight years and drew roughly three million visitors. In 2006, I founded a movie blog called Conversations on Ghibli, later retitled to Ghibli Blog. Today, Ghibli Blog has has received over 4.5 million page views. Yeah, I know, most website bragging is meaningless. Bear with me.

Today, in 2017, I have a zine and three full-length books ready to be unleashed upon the world. There will be more books and zines to follow, and more online writing and artwork. And this website will be here to chronicle it all.

Thank you again for visiting this website. Please excuse the mess, as it will take a while.