The so-called "Walt Disney of Japan" is coming to America this week. The rare visit by Hayao Miyazaki, the acclaimed animation filmmaker, will take place at San Diego's upcoming Comic Con, just a few weeks ahead of Disney's release of his latest film, "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea." The dubbed version will feature the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White and Frankie Jonas.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid,” the film opened in Japan last year and then went to the Venice Film Festival in the fall. The film is the story of a young goldfish named Ponyo (voiced by Noah Cyrus) and her quest to become human. It closed the Los Angeles Film Festival last month.
"One of the things that makes Miyazaki's films so special is the fact that in a pop culture that values BIGGER and LOUDER and FASTER and CRAZY and LOTS OF SOUND AND FURY, no matter what it signifies, Miyazaki seems to value the gentle. The quiet. The peaceful," wrote Drew McWeeny, for HitFix.
“He celebrates the quiet moments,” praised Pixar's John Lasseter, calling Miyazaki "one of the most original" filmmakers, in a recent New York Times article about the Japanese filmmaker's upcoming trip to the U.S.
The director is apparently not a fan of this country, even missing the Oscars in 2003 when his "Spirited Away" won the animated feature prize. “I think he has an image of the United States as a culture that isn’t that helpful to the world,” Berkeley's Duncan Williams told the New York Times. Miyazaki will be at the Bay Area university this weekend to receive an award.
"'Ponyo' is a singular experience, animation as pure emotion, a love story and an adventure and one of the real treats for 2009 so far," continued Drew Mcweeny, "And I'm sure that it, like his earlier work, will be a tremendous success by the exact standard that he hopes."
"Miyazaki has made what is for any adult - but especially a 67-year-old anime veteran - an extraordinary leap: In "Ponyo" he is not just telling a story to tikes, but imaginatively becoming one himself," reviewed Mark Schilling in The Japan Times last year, when the film opened in Miyazaki's home country. "I was reminded of the famous opening of James Joyce's 'Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', with its recital of the hero's earliest memories in the language of infancy ('Once upon a time there was a moocow coming down along the road and ...'), as if the author were re-inhabiting an earlier self."
In a three-star Guardian review from the Venice fest, Andrew Pulver called the movie a, "more straightforwardly a kids' cartoon, albeit a rousing, affecting and beautiful-looking one." He added, "I doubt 'Ponyo' will accrue the same slavering praise as 'Spirited Away', but even little kids will love it, and the wonderful DayGlo visuals ought to keep their parents entertained, too."
The film will be in New York City next month at a pre-release screening from the New York International Chidren's Film Festival.