Written by Brian Welk
14 Monday 14th June 2010
John Lasseter and his team at Pixar have a greater output of quality films than almost anyone else making movies today. But Lasseter is in awe of perhaps the one person in the world that does have a better track record: Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki’s latest film Ponyo, which was just released on DVD and Blu-Ray this past week, continues that trend of excellence. The film tells of a goldfish princess that escapes from home and comes across a little boy that cares for her and helps her on her quest to become a mortal, little girl.
While somewhat lighter in tone than Miyazaki’s darker work (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke), Ponyo is still a visual wonder. It is a joyous film that melds some of Miyazaki’s familiar fantastical imagery and his modern environmental themes with the charm and innocence of toddler characters younger than any he’s portrayed before.
Lasseter, who has worked diligently to get Miyazaki’s films distributed outside of Japan, interviewed the anime legend to discuss some of the unique qualities of Ponyo.
John Lasseter: Ponyo is a wonderful film. The story is so special and the look of the film is great. There’s a feeling to this film that is very unique to any of your other films. Where did this idea come from?
Hayao Miyazaki: I thought I wanted to make something that would entertain kids that are five years old. Actually five years olds are quite mature. Though they might not be able to say much with words they understand a lot. I wanted to make something that five year olds can enjoy, and I thought if they can enjoy it I’m sure adults can enjoy it too.
JL: The look of this film is really beautiful and unique from your other films. Was there something that you saw that really inspired you for the look of the film?
HM: When animation met computers I think we came to very difficult place. The more elaborate and fine and more detailed it gets, the joy is gone that was there when it was just paper and pencil. So I decided that we should make an animation film where people can just purely enjoy the animation.
JL: The water in this film is so beautiful. The way that the waves kind of become creatures and when Ponyo’s sisters turn into the big fish and she runs on top of them it’s so spectacular. Really the style of the water in its simplified form it’s actually quite, quite beautiful. And very believable for the movie and the world that you created. How did this animation come about?
HM: At first I was quite hesitant about portraying water as fish but I started working on the storyboards and I showed it to my staff and they didn’t seem to mind. Actually they approved. So we decide to go with this. I think I was the most hesitant about drawing eyeballs on the waves and making them look like creatures.
JL: Ponyo goes through different character designs from her as a fish to an amphibian to a human girl. Did you kind of think through how you wanted to design her and her changes?

HM: Actually I started out thinking Ponyo was a tin toy frog with a little wind up key on the back and tried to build a story on that. But once I had finalised the character I didn’t think I could make anything unique with that and so I decided to forget about that and decided to make her into a goldfish. It was kind of natural that Ponyo first starts out as a fish and then becomes an amphibian form because that frog-like form was what I was thinking of making her like. And so the transformation from the fish to the half-amphibian look was quite natural for me.   

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