Ponyo, directed in 2008 by the legendary Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, is an enchanting film that immerses us in a magical world situated in the heart of nature. The story revolves around the encounter between a young boy called Sosuke and a mischievous little sea creature called Ponyo, who dreams about becoming a girl. The movie takes place in a Japan filled with natural wonders where the ocean, fish, and elements of the flora and fauna play crucial roles. Ponyo carries us in a captivating visual journey which explores the relation between humans and nature, while addressing meaningful messages on the preservation of the environment.
The magic of nature
In Ponyo, the director Hayao Miyazaki builds a complex cinematographic world that explores the connections between humans and nature. The ocean is in the centre of this cinematographic exploration, as it reveals itself to be a protagonist in its own right, with an imposing presence and a breathtaking beauty masterfully rendered by Studio Ghibli’s animation. The ocean is more than a mere piece of scenery in the movie, it is a living force, thrilling, and almost supernatural, that incarnates at the same time the majesty of nature and the hidden secrets in its abyssal depths.
This underwater word is populated by fantastic creatures, colourful fish and diverse ecosystems, that reveal the richness and diversity of submarine life. It is a ballet of dancing sea anemones, of glistening fish and phosphorescent jellyfish that captivate the audience. The depth of the representation of submarine life in the film shows how much the ocean is a world of its own. The attention to details, the fluidity of marine creatures’ movements, and the vivid colours, add on a touch of realism almost hypnotic to this underwater world.
Just as the Japanese setting of Ponyo adds another depth to its message about defending the environment, the film reflects the unique relations between Japanese culture and nature, where natural elements are respected and incorporated in daily life. This connexion is represented through the respectful representation of the ocean, the mountains, and the Japanese countryside. By presenting Japan’s marine biodiversity, with its unique creatures, the movie celebrates the richness of the local fauna and flora, reminding the importance of protecting these species and their habitats.
From magic to preservation
Consequently, Ponyo does not exclusively celebrate this natural beauty. It also underlines the existing threats to the environment, originating from human activity. The coastal village, where the story is set, is inspired from Tomonoura, a port from the town of Fukuyama. Miyazaki tries to illustrate the numerous and specific environmental issues, such as natural disasters, overfishing, marine contamination and the rubbish management to which Japan is confronted.
Japan is a country located in a seismic and volcanic active area, which means that it is at risk from earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. The choice of breaking waves forming a tsunami during Pony’s liberation is therefore not without significance. The liberation acts as a trigger to disastrous natural phenomenons, such as massive underwater flooding , giant waves and a chaotic transformation of the underwater world. The tsunami can be interpreted as the disastrous consequence of human irresponsibility towards nature. It is used as a powerful metaphor to symbolise the consequences of human actions towards the environment.
A central thesis of the film is that nature itself is magic, as shown through Ponyo’s superpowers, which incarnates nature’s extraordinary potential. The relation between Sosuke, the young protagonist, and Ponyo, symbolises the connection between human and nature, underlining the necessity for humanity to live in harmony with its environment. Ponyo reminds us that it is not too late to change, and it is possible to make amends for those who recognise nature’s value, as shown with the transformation of the antagonist, Fujimoto, into an environment defender. It is on the one side a warning that underlines the consequences of human irresponsibility, and on the other side, a message full of hope, showing that we can change our behaviour to preserve the environment. Therefore, the film encourages the audience to take inspiration from Japanese culture of preservation and respect for the environment by showing how the characters’ redemption can have a positive impact on nature.
Thus, the film reminds us that nature’s beauty and magic are treasures to preserve. It reminds us that our actions have an impact on the environment, and that the carelessness of our planet can turn into catastrophes. Ponyo is an invitation to reconsider our relation with the environment and recognise our responsibility in the preservation of these unique marine ecosystems.
Ponyo sur la falaise, Hayao Miyazaki, 2013.
Translated by Solange Meurier & Gabriel Capitolo.