Friday, August 14, 2009

Ponyo Ponyo Ponyo

What does Ponyo want?

There is a theory about the formation of the self that goes something like this: Just after you are born, you cannot tell the difference between yourself and a chair. Of course you don’t know what a chair is, but in fact, that isn’t important to you at all. You only know that you are
, and you are the only thing that there is. The chair is you. The air is you. Your mother is you. In this state of being, you are everything and everything is you. And the only thing that concerns you is needs. You need food. You need to sleep. You need to do number one and number two.

But of course you are wrong. Your conception of everything is wrong. You begin to realize that the chair is not you. It is something else. And the fact that there are other things is the first thing that we ever learn. And it is very frightening.

It is as if you are suddenly broken into a million pieces. What was once whole and full and complete has become fragmented, forever separated. Who are you? That chair is not you. It is not a part of you. What are you?

Can you picture yourself? I mean your entire self? Of course you can. You’ve looked at yourself in a mirror. You know what you look like. You have seen the entire you. But what about when you were born? And after you realized that your idea of you had been totally wrong?

Who are you? What are you? You realize that the right arm is a part of you. The left arm? Yes, that too. And those legs. And that part near the bottom that gets wet a number of times a day. And the part where food goes into. All those parts are parts of you. But they are parts. And you can’t get a sense of the whole. What is the whole of you?

Sarasaちゃん asks: "Are you sure you're not me?"

At first, you felt only needs. But now, you feel something different. You feel want, which is different from need. Without satisfying needs, you will die. You are sure of that. You need to end the feeling of hunger. You need to relieve the pressure of number one and number two. Without satisfying wants, you won’t die but you’ll be miserable. You want to be whole again. You want to be able to feel that you are everything and everything is you again. You want to be full and complete again. But of course it is not possible. Once you realize that your idea of you is wrong, you cannot go back to that sense of being whole ever again. You are forever separated from that content feeling of completeness. You want but you can’t get what you want. As Morpheus said:

Um, welcome to spelling class.

Wants and Needs. Wholeness and Separation. Those concepts kept coming to mind while I watched Miyazaki Hayao ’s most recent film, “Ponyo.” The most powerful scene in the film is Ponyo’s storm. It’s a whopper of a storm. Maybe she didn’t mean to whip up such a frenzy. She may not even realize she had caused the mess. That storm came because she wanted something that we have all wanted since we realized that the chair was really a chair and not us. She wanted to end the Separation. Ah, but in her case, it’s separation with a small “s.”

Like Chagall. But, you know, for the kids.

“Ponyo” is a love story for the kindergarten set. Little boy meets little fish. Little fish and little boy bond. Father of fish comes to take little fish home. Little fish wants to be with little boy again. The want that the little fish feels is the most powerful force in the film, so great that it can change a fish into a girl and create a tuna-powered storm that dwarfs fishing boats and floods a town.

The storm is Miyazaki’s way of depicting want. And maybe it is the best depiction of want I have ever seen. Want is the storm that we make and we really don’t care about what the storm does or who the storm affects. We just want to be at the tip of that storm, pistoning our chubby infant legs so that we maintain our position at the front and get where we want to go. The younger you are, the more powerful that storm can get. And the easier it is to maintain that storm.

Ponyo’s storm is a mighty creation because she is, after all, a child. And anyone, from children to the elderly, can understand the power of that creation. Ponyo never once looks back while she is at the front. No, because her sense of want is supremely powerful, like the want you felt when you realized that you are not who you thought. But as I watched it, I was exhilarated and at the same time horrified. It’s one heck of a storm, and it can wreak havoc.

After the storm, the movie loses steam. It starts to deal with another character’s want and that doesn’t seem as compelling as Ponyo’s. The moments that will stay with you are Ponyo's -- when she wills herself arms and legs; when she makes Sosuke's toy into a sea-faring vessel; when she discovers ham, and later, ramen:

"あ〜〜〜〜〜〜〜!!"               "おいしそう〜〜!!"

"Ponyo" isn't quite up to the standards of "Totoro," the last film Miyazaki made with the kiddie set in mind. It's hard to be perfect twice, I guess.

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