Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #19

Re: The Worlds of Hayao Miyazaki

I just don’t get Ponyo or any of Miyazaki’s stuff, and I’m as big a traditional animation (and family film) fan as I know. I’m sure that there’s a cultural divide (or a near impassable gulf) between the western version of fantasy or fairy tale and the eastern vision, but the flighty, almost haphazard nature of these stories leads my children to wander out of the room whenever we play his films for family movie night.

Forgive my apparent ignorance, but I wonder whether the famous director is given a pass based on reputation alone, because I feel confident that a film like Ponyo, if released by an American director, would be absolutely panned as pointless, plotless, and completely slapdash. What am I missing?

You say “plotless and slapdash” like it’s a bad thing.

Seriously, I don’t know what I can add to my Miyazaki essay and my reviews so far, which I think express the reasons for my Miyazaki enthusiasm about as well as I can express them. If my inbox is any indication, I’m not alone; many of my readers appear to share the love, and some of them have discovered Miyazaki through my reviews, which delights me to no end.

Perhaps I will simply say this. I enjoy Miyazaki’s films because I enjoy sharing the filmmaker’s own delight in his characters and his worlds. Since you cite Ponyo, perhaps the most slapdash of all his films, I care about Sosuke and Lisa, the old ladies at the nursing home, and the nursing mother in the boat, because I sense that Miyazaki cares about them. I enjoy Lisa and Koichi’s house on the cliff, with the path down to the sea and the signal light on the deck. I am enchanted by Ponyo and Sosuke’s idyllic voyage through the flood waters, with the riot of extinct fish wending beneath them. What is better than that?

I assure you that if an American director were to attempt anything like what Miyazaki does, critics would be falling over themselves and each other to hail and praise his work. And I would be right in the middle of the pile, like Max buried in the pile of Wild Things in Spike Jonze’s film.

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