'Ponyo,' Swimming Magically Against The Tide

If you thought Pixar's Up was going to be the only great animated feature of the summer, think again. There's a new film out from the visionary Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, and trust me: You'll be planning to see Ponyo twice before you've finished seeing it once.

The film's special mixture of fantasy, adventure and affection mark it unmistakably as the work of Miyazaki, the great genius of contemporary animation. (He won an Oscar for Spirited Away.)

The story he tells this time concerns a goldfish named Ponyo, who desperately wants to be a little girl after she meets a small boy who loves her.

Once Ponyo's on land, she proves to be a delightfully willful creature, determined to have her own way in all things. Though her magician father returns her to the ocean, she's not the type to give up. She steals an elixir to help her become human, but that causes a storm to end all storms, a tempest that jeopardizes everyone in the film.

That supernatural tsunami represents a notion central to the film: that magic haunts the edges of the everyday, mixing with the ordinary in ways we don't always take the time to notice.

Underlying everything is Miyazaki's exceptional filmmaking imagination, his ability to bring us into other worlds, to stretch our minds without seeming to break a sweat.

Ponyo is a sweet-natured film that emphasizes the joys of childhood friendships, and this English-language version has been given first-class treatment. E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison did the adaptation, and top-quality voice talent like Liam Neeson, Tina Fey and Cate Blanchett were hired.

Ponyo won't remind you of anyone else's films. It offers up unforgettable images, like Ponyo running on the crests of waves, images that use the logic of dreams to make the deepest possible connection to our emotions, and to our souls.

kenneth turan