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Friday, July 25, 2008 12:20 am

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(c) Studio Ghibli 2008

‘Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea’ brings in 15 billion yen during opening weekend

Legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki’s latest movie, “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” sold an estimated 1.5 billion yen ($13.9 million) worth of tickets during its three-days opening weekend in Japan last week.

The movie failed to top the box office record of Miyazaki’s 7 year old Academy Award winning film “Spirited Away” but came closer to his production company Studio Ghibli’s previous movie, “Tales from Earthsea”, directed by his son Goro Miyazaki.

“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” is the story about 5-year-old Sousuke and his sudden meeting with half-goldfish, half-human girl Ponyo by the shore of a quiet seaside town. The two meet after Ponyo has escaped from her mysterious father’s underwater tower in a dazzling intro scene where she rides on the back of a giant jellyfish. Ponyo immediately falls in love with Sousuke and decides she wants to become a human, a decision that ends up bringing unexpected consequences to the sleepy town.

The story shares more than just the main character with Danish author H.C. Andersen’s novel “The Little Mermaid,” but Miyazaki has revealed that he originally wanted to base the movie on the children’s book “Elta the Frog” by Japanese author Rieko Nakagawa. He also mentioned Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” and Natsume Soseki’s “The Gate” as sources of inspiration.

Every single scene in the movie is entirely hand drawn, marking a return to the old for Miyazaki, who has been using CGI to enhance his works since “Princess Mononoke” in 1997. But the animation is at the same time a new start for the 67-year-old director, with its light, watercolor-inspired fluidness.

Unlike several recent Studio Ghibli movies which featured a darker, grimmer streak, “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” is a light-hearted story unlikely to bring as much as an unpleasant thought to even the smallest toddler. The movie is unusually colorful, even for an anime, with nearly every scene filled to the brim with fantastical fish creatures and gorgeous underwater backdrops.

Critics have been quick to call the movie “an instant classic” and “yet another masterpiece by Miyazaki,” but it has also been criticized for its unusual dramaturgy. A critic on the popular Japanese movie site Eiga.com claimed that “hardly anything happened during the movie”, and that it surely marked the end for the long, successful
history of Studio Ghibli.

No official date has yet been announced for the North American theatrical release of the movie, but U.S. fans can expect to be able to quench their thirst for overly cute goldfish girls sometime next year.

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