Japanese Dolphins: Ponyo versus The Cove

I wanted to see Ponyo the minute it hit theaters — Miyazaki is certainly my favorite maker of children’s films, and one of my favorite directors. But swine flu and other distractions kept my son and me away until this Saturday. Cole’s dad was out of town, we were enjoying a mom-and-son weekend, and Ponyo was on top of my list (though we did stop at a horse show on the way).

It’s funny to me that Disney now releases these Studio Ghibli films, since Miyazaki’s imagination is still so unformulaic and frankly sometimes freakish. His characters are androgynous and anthropomorphic in ways that seem to me to be subversive and, well, queer. It’s part of why I love him. Often, as in Ponyo, there’s a wizard who drips sweat and anxiety — an authority figure who has been twisted and can’t be trusted. He usually has long hair and a big nose, like a rock star crossed with a witch.

Nature bursts into strange and fantastic forms in Miyazaki’s movies, and Ponyo — though G-rated — is no exception. There are waves that are slaves to the wizard, and throw themselves as menacing creatures onto the shore. The whole movie is about the sea. It’s also about the relationship between a mother and son. So it was perfect and profound that Cole and I saw it together, on our weekend alone, then drove back to our new home by the shore.

Ponyo and other Miyazaki movies are all about the environment.  The Japanese filmmaker was green long before An Inconvenient Truth made it trendy. This struck me as interesting in light of debate saying that The Cove is harsh on the Japanese while ignoring American theme parks’ complicity in dolphin entrapment and trade. Perhaps because the Japanese still whales, it’s easy to point the finger at them as cruel to animals — Miyazaki does it as well. But the U.S. is the country that didn’t sign the Kyoto protocol.

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Filed under Populism, Recommended viewing, USC Specialized Journalism

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