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Blu-ray Review: Ponyo

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Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki is a legend in the film industry for his beautiful and imaginative animated films. Ponyo, based upon the Hans Christian Andersen story The Little Mermaid, is the latest animated effort from the acclaimed director and is now available on Blu-ray. Is Blu-ray the definitive way to experience a Miyazaki film?

Ponyo tells the enchanting story of a goldfish who is found in the ocean by a little boy, Sosuke. He takes care of the goldfish and names it Ponyo. The two form a close bond and soon after discovering Ponyo can talk they fall in love in such a way that only five-year-olds can. Ponyo is ‘rescued’ by her father, an underwater magician who despises humans and is more concerned with his magical potions than he is with his daughters. While her father has succeeded in ‘rescuing’ her it’s already too late, Ponyo wants to become a real little girl and live with Sosuke on land. She begins to use her own magic and, after turning into a little girl, she begins her journey back to Sosuke. Not fully realising her own power and what her dad’s potions were capable of Ponyo unleashes the power of the sea, bringing a fierce storm to bear on Sosuke’s village. Ponyo’s actions, while serving her own innocent ends, have caused the world to become unbalanced and some big decisions must be made to set things right again resulting in Ponyo and Sosuke’s loving friendship facing some serious difficulties.

With Ponyo Miyazaki has crafted one of the most enjoyable, innocent and loving children’s films ever made. His animation style and story have really managed to capture how the world is perceived by a five year old, but he’s also managed to craft a story that critiques our relationship with and respect of nature. While I was expecting a bit more from the ending, where the story seemed to build up to a great challenge for Sosuke to complete, it’s very hard not to fall in love with Ponyo. The love and friendship between Ponyo and Sosuke is so pure and such a good message for all children not to judge people and to accept them wholly. Also the scene where Ponyo is accepted into Sosuke’s home and exposed to the life of a human is just such a charming and adorable moment. At this stage the film really captures the inquisitive and curious nature of children and it’s hard not to think of moments where you can recall yourself or someone else acting in a similar way when they were a child.

Miyazaki and the team at Ghibli have once again created a beautifully animated film in Ponyo. There is such a diverse use of color and light and shadow that you can’t help but think the world is real. Meanwhile the scene where Ponyo is running on the waves/giant water fish is a piece of superb and highly skilled animation that shows you the talent of the Ghibli crew. Also water is one of the hardest things to portray in a film, especially animation, but the style Miyazaki and Ghibli uses is fantastic. You actually get the feeling that it’s an ocean filled with living, breathing organisms. With Ponyo I’d go as far as saying that it’s the best animated ocean I’ve seen.

The film has also managed to secure a really talented English voice cast that do a fantastic job. Tina Fey as Sosuke’s mother and Liam Neeson as Ponyo’s father were really good in my opinion and the perfect choices for their characters will the likes of Betty White and Lily Tomlin round out a great overall cast.

The film is presented in 16:9 Widescreen 1080p High Definition and it’s a fantastic transfer. In high definition the animation and art of Miyazaki’s team over at Ghibli really pops. Every color is crisp and clear with the image having real clarity while the use of shadow and lighting in the film adds a suitable layer of darkness to the image when required. Throughout the film there is no evidence of damage to the print, it’s a near perfect transition and representation of the film.

The Madman Australian release presents the film in LPCM (uncompressed) English 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio Japanese 6.1. The soundtrack is easily audible and clear with scenes like the wave running scene really working your full surround set-up to make it really feel like furious waves are coming down all around you. The audio transfer also captures composer Joe Hisaishi’s sweeping orchestral soundtrack well.

The Blu-ray really stands out due to its inclusion of a wide variety of special features. The Blu-ray features over 265 minutes worth of special features ranging from interviews with Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki to a look at the real life inspiration for the setting of Ponyo. It’s an exhaustive collection of bonus features that are worth a look at for anyone who is interested in Ponyo or in Miyazaki’s work in general.

The Blu-ray release of Ponyo really is the best way to experience this film. It captures the true essence of the theatrical release perfectly and it comes bundled with one of the most exhaustive collections of special features assembled. With the combination of a great film and a great HD presentation this is really a must buy.

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