East Asia: Various readings on “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea”

Japanese anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, has become a widely discussed movie in the 2009 new year. Here is the movie trailer:

In Hong Kong, the movie was on show since mid Jan and because of the debate over protection of Children and censorship issue, many bloggers, including myself, have interpreted the story along the line of parent and children relation, which are probably over-reading of the movie, but great text generates its own life.

In our globalvoices cross-border discussion group among writer, Tomomi Sasaki and Scilla Alecci both pointed out that in Japan, the main focus of the discussion is on Ponyo and Sosuke, the two main characters in the film, as well as the technique used for the animation, such as the fact that Miyazaki himself drew by hand the scenes of Ponyo running on the waves etc.

In Taiwan, from the blog links provided by Portnoy and I-fan, the main concern is also about technique and Miyazaki's consistence themes in his story, like environment, love, chaos, symbolized in sea life, food, waves and tsunami: Ponyo-The Magic of bucket (zh), Ponyo-Tales from Tsunami (zh), Ponyo-Taste of Noodles (zh).

However, I was struck by the father and daughter relation between Ponyo and Fujimoto, that the father has to repress Ponyo's desire by detaining her and Ponyo's rebellious action that causes all the chaos, as well as the mother and son relation between Sosuke and Lisa, that both trust each others in their choices and works and help each other's out in equal ground.

Luke, a blogger from Taiwan, also shares my observation and points out that the relation between Ponyo and Fujimoto, an idealistic environmentalist, reflects the relation between Hayao Miyazaki and his son. The conflicts between the father and daughter in the film is resolved by the embracing love of Ponyo's mother, Granmammare and Sosuke's mother, Lisa, who accept their children's choices.

However, reviews in the mainstream media in Hong Kong, look at Lisa's choice in taking care of the elderly and leaving her son behind as highly irresponsible behavior, while some consider it educational, as Sosuke becomes independent and learns how to take care of Ponyo in his journey to find his mother. The commentary indeed reflects the value conflict between tradition parent and liberal parent. My interpretation is that by giving freedom to Sosuke to grow, Lisa can also free herself from her domestic role and make choice based on her value.

You maybe surprised to see that in Hong Kong, there is actually a spoofing facebook group inviting people to complain against the movie, the group states that the story “advocate bestiality” as the center of love is a human kid and a magic fish. The campaign reminded us of the complain Bible campaign happened two years ago. This time is a parody of the recent discussion about censorship mechanism in Hong Kong, in which, Christian and parental groups urge the government to censor materials that “promote or incite un-natural behaviour and abortion”.

Martinoei also points out that the facebook group is interpreting the film according to Hong Kong's Christian right's logic.

There are a number of interpretation that relates the movie to censorship debate in Hong Kong. Kursk says the film is about love relation between two pre-mature juniors. Lam Kay also grasps the opportunity to spoof Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, and government's attempt in tightening up free speech environment.

Apart from the more politically charged spoofing, there is a very popular commercial spoof in youtube, in which someone sings out a shampoo advertisement talk of Jacky Chen with the movie's theme music.


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