Release Date(s)2008 (October 17, 2017)
Studio(s)Studio Ghibli/Nippon Television/Walt Disney Japan/Toho (GKids/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
Brunhilde is a young goldfish who lives underwater with her wizard father, Fujimoto, but escapes on the back of a jellyfish to see the outside world. Soon she washes ashore in a Japanese fishing village, where she’s found by a five-year-old boy named Sōsuke, who decides to keep her and rename her Ponyo. Anxious to find his daughter, Fujimoto calls upon the wave spirits to return her home. But Ponyo decides that she wants to become human to be with Sōsuke, and uses her father’s magic potion to do so, causing an imbalance that wreaks havoc upon the village and the world at large. So Fujimoto consults Ponyo’s mother, who reveals that Sōsuke must pass a test of his love for Ponyo for them to remain together while restoring nature to its proper order.
Inspired by Han Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” (though with little similarity to the Disney film adaptation), director Hayao Miyazaki sought to explore notions of first love and responsibility to others with Ponyo, while also associating the power of magic to the natural world – a magic that’s recognized and honored by the film’s wisest human characters. This idea of humans living in balance with nature is a common theme across much of the director’s work. Miyazaki was also exploring new ways of evolving the art of traditional 2D animation by using curved, organic shapes instead of straight lines, still animating by hand rather than by computer, but attempting to give the result a more fluid and dynamic look. This style is strongly on display during the film’s stunning tsunami sequence, as Ponyo returns to Sōsuke atop giant waves of fish. The film is also notable for another stirring score by composer Joe Hisaishi, a frequent Miyazaki collaborator.
GKids’ new Blu-ray edition presents the film in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio in 1080p HD. The source for this transfer is the original Ghibli animation master and the compression is stable at about a constant 33 Mbps (as compared to the Disney BD, on which the datarate varied wildly from moment to moment). Comparing the GKids presentation to the Disney disc, I much prefer this version. The image is a bit cleaner and less noisy looking, with slightly richer colors. Disney’s BD was released in 2010, so it could simply be a factor of improvements in video compression in the 7 years since. Whatever the reason, this HD image is rock steady and absolutely gorgeous. Note that when you choose either English or Japanese audio, the opening titles and credits appear in that language too, via seamless branching.
Here’s some great news: While the Disney Blu-ray included only dubbed English in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, GKids’ new disc includes the original Japanese audio in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio too, along with French 5.1 Dolby Digital. Better still, while the Disney disc included only English SDH for the hearing impaired (aka “dubtitles”), the new GKids edition offers that along with English subtitles for the Original Language Version (a proper Japanese-to-English translation of the original script), as well as French (though it omits the Disney BD’s Spanish subs). Both lossless audio tracks are fantastic, with smooth panning, lovely atmosphere, and great clarity.
This disc’s menus are simple – there’s no promos, no extended BD Java load times, none of the junk Disney clogged their discs up with. You get just a static film-themed menu that allows you to get right to the content quickly and easily. That important, because the GKids’ Blu-ray includes over 5 hours of extras, all in HD (though with occasional SD material mixed in). Most of it is in the original Japanese with English subtitles (though there is also some English material carried over from the Disney Blu-ray). Lots of content from the original Studio Ghibli Japanese Blu-ray is included here (indicated by * below), so this will be new to most of you. The full list is as follows:
- Feature-Length Storyboards (100:52)*
- The Five Geniuses Who Created Ponyo (48:52)*
- The Locations of Ponyo (9:47)*
- Press Conference: Theme Song Announcement (11:12)*
- Theme Song Music Video (3:43)*
- Interview with Hayao Miyazaki (14:45)*
- Interview with Toshio Suzuki (29:40)*
- Opening Event at Hibiya Scala-Za Theater (9:58)*
- Hayao Miyazaki Press Conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (39:40 – no subtitles, as translation is actually provided by an English-speaking interpreter)*
- Behind the Microphone (6:05 – from the Disney BD)
- Creating Ponyo (3:58 – from the Disney BD)
- Ponyo & Fujimoto (3:01 – from the Disney BD)
- The Nursery (2:00 – from the Disney BD)
- Producer’s Perspective: Telling the Story (2:27 – from the Disney BD)
- Scoring Miyazaki (7:22 – from the Disney BD)
- Original Theatrical Trailers (2 Japanese trailers – 3:15 in all)*
- TV Spots (11 Japanese TV spots – 3:39 in all)*
Missing from the Disney Blu-ray (though, trust me, you won’t miss it) are:
- Disc Introduction: Meet Ponyo (3:22)
- A Conversation with Hayao Miyazaki & John Lasseter (3:33)
- The Locations of Ponyo (3:58 – replaced by a different and longer Japanese version)
- Creating My Neighbor Totoro (3:00 – included on the new GKids Totoro BD)
- Creating Kiki’s Delivery Service (2:28 – included on the new GKids Kiki BD)
- Castle in the Sky: Character Sketches (2:41 – included on the new GKids Castle BD)
You also don’t get the Disney BD’s silly Enter the Lands teasers for other Ghibli films, which were basically just English language introductions in the event you know nothing about them. The Meet Ponyo piece was just Disney executives explaining why you should like the film. The promo pieces for the other films are included on the respective GKids BDs for those films. So the only thing you may miss is the piece with Miyazaki and Lasseter, but even that is really just 3 minutes of glad-handing. Missing from the Japanese Blu-ray version of this film are a couple of teasers, Japan-specific product spots, a short featurette on the Japanese voice talent for the film, and the like. It’s not a big deal; all of the significant material has been included here. The package also includes a DVD disc that offers the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen SD, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (but not lossless) in dubbed English, the original Japanese, and French, with optional English dubtitles, English translation for the original Japanese version, and French. It features some, but not all, of the same extras as the Blu-ray. There’s no Digital Copy code, but the package does include a wonderful booklet featuring statements on the film by producer Toshio Suzuki and director Hayao Miyazaki, as well as English translation lyrics for two songs from the film.
Just how good is GKids’ new Ponyo Blu-ray? It is, beyond any doubt, the definitive English-language edition of this film on Blu-ray, as it combines all of the significant extras from both the Ghibli and Disney Blu-rays, while also offering superior A/V quality that corrects the Disney Blu-ray’s grave mistakes. If you’re a serious Ghibli fan (unless you already own the Japanese Blu-ray), it’s absolutely a must-have disc. As of the time of this review, it’s just $17 on Amazon. Do not hesitate. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt