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For a number of years now one of my best friends has been trying to get me into anime with rather limited results. Recently two things occurred that changed my view of this popular form of animation. First I had a stroke and moved in with my friend and his wife. Second Walt Disney re-released a series of films that were influential in defining the genre. When I told my friend that the series of films were from the noted writer/director Hayao Miyazaki I could tell by the way his eyes lit up that watching these films was going to be a true treat. So far every film in this release group has been fantastic and the one under consideration here, ‘Ponyo on the Cliff certainly not the exception. It is also the only one presented in high definition on Blu-ray. My friend showed me this film in regular DVD and the upgrade to Blu-ray is definitely worth it even if the title is already in your collection. ‘Ponyo’ is considered one of Miyazaki’s best works and considering his collective body of films that is like finding a flawless diamond at Tiffany’s ere ever other example is representative of unparalleled quality. A lot of movies make a claim of being for the entire family but usually the target only the youngest member of the family with little regard to the older kids or adults. ‘Ponyo’ on the surface appears to be a simple tale of a little fish on an adventure but it is presented in such a delightful fashion that no matter what age you are you will become instantly entranced by the magical nature of this movie. There are some that are really into anime that regard the Disney English dub versions to be a travesty and I can understand their position. I have been a long time advocate of preserving the director’s original vision by not supporting altering the aspect ratio through the abomination of pan and scan to fit the old fashion 4:3 television screen ratio. With the proliferation of 16:9 sets this is becoming less of an issue. I also feel that the original sound track should be included especially in the case of non-English language movies. Even if you are reading along with the subtitles the original language is best to understand the cadence and flow of the dialogue. In this edition there is ample bandwidth to include both English and Japanese audio tracks in Dolby 5.1 as well as English subtitles. This way you can watch something closer to the original if you are so inclined. The important thing is not to let the sub titles or dubbing scare you off. That would result in missing one of the unique cinematic experiences around.

The world of anime is populated by a plethora of extremely talent people but even in such stellar company one name soars above the rest; Hayao Miyazaki. After conquering the fans in Japan he set out to popularize anime here in the States with early films like ‘Princess Mononoke’. Once he got a foot in the door the American anime devotees rallied around making his gentle stories some of the defining classics of the genre. Some of the standard themes and plot devices found in anime were either started by Miyazaki or at least popularized by his movies. One pervasive theme is the strong young girl as the protagonist. This as help to bring the genre to a growing number of girls and young women; anime was no longer a male dominated art form. Miyazaki is also intrigued by the interaction of humans with nature. In the case here a little fish named Ponyo gets a chance to become human.

Ponyo (English dub by Noah Lindsey Cyrus, sister of Miley) is a little fish who lives in a castle located in a human’s aquarium. Ponyo lives with her father and several siblings but dreams of seeing more of the world. One day she is trapped outside the safety she is used to but is rescued by a young boy named Sōsuke (English dub by Frankie Jonas). He cuts his finger and Ponyo licks the wound healing it. Her father comes looking for her and after a confrontation Ponyo turns into a human. So many of the themes here are universal but for those of us here in the States it is fascinating to see the Japanese take on them. First there is the desire to see what lies beyond the familiar. Curiosity drives our species and is depicted here magically through an anthropomorphized fish. Another is the eternal battle between a child and parents. Ponyo is caught between respecting her father and striving to discover who she really is. This is taken to an extreme with the cross species motif. This film handles subjects like this magically with a gentle sense of magic and discovery. The Dolby 5.1 audio is incredible both in English and Japanese. The subtitles are clear so following along is not difficult at all. You may notice the inclusion of as lot of voices from the Disney family. Typical of this release set the voice talent is very recognizable to American audiences. This is one of the most notable features that the Disney dubbing offers. The use of extremely recognizable actor’s voices will make the introduction to this brand of anime even more enjoyable to the uninitiated. The Blu-ray video is spectacular. If you think that 1080p video is wasted on animation this release will change your mind. The video is so crisp and clear that it is extremely easy to forget you are watching drawings. Matching this video perfection is the sound stage provided by the 5.1 audio. There is a depth here that pulls you into this magical world. Gather the entire family around for an incredible evening.

Posted 03/09/2010

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