With an eleven-year-old who is heavily into Japanese anime, it is not reasonable to think that one would be spared a theater visit to see the most recent Hayao Miyazaki opus. And, of course I was not.
My general feelings about anime run the gamut. Some seem tremendously long, complex, and arcane (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), others seem to be very young (Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro) and still others seem odd, disjointed and filled with mysterious almost sensible things (Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away [redux]). All of the ones I have seen have been beautiful.
Ponyo falls into the young, weird, and beautiful category. Our hero is a five-year-old who unaccountably can identify species of Devonian fish at a glance through the water. He encounters an odd goldfish princess (who wants to become a real girl--sound familiar) and her even odder parents--some sort of sea-wizard and a lovely rainbow colored set of diaphanous flowing garments with a beautiful face typified by some sailors as "The Goddess of Mercy."
The story centers around the desire of the young goldfish princess to become a real girl. In her quest she releases some enormous power that drags the moon out of its orbit toward earth. To save the earth and achieve her goal, she (Ponyo) and her young boy-friend/brother-to-be set out on an epic quest through storm and tsunami.
The moving is charming, beautifully wrought, and filled with the mysterious and nearly incomprehensible blend of Shinto and Buddhist sensibility that seem to inform many of Miyazaki's films. And perhaps that is the appeal of most of them--there is always a deeply spiritual element, which is sometimes difficult to understand, but often involved with the spirits of nature and correcting some imbalance that results from an out-of-balance relationship with nature.
Ponyo seemed long (like most anime does to me). But it wasn't long in the tedious, dull sense--more like in a suspended time-sense. And it was undoubtedly beautiful in every frame.
One of the joys of having a child is being able to share for a few moments their vision of the world. I think Miyazaki may actually capture this experience better than any novelist, artist, or filmmaker I know. Ponyou is from beginning to end, charming, beautiful, and oddly captivating. It is certainly appropriate for all audiences and serves as a wonderful introduction to the world of anime.