World awaits Miyazaki's 10th animated film

After four years without a movie, the 10th animated film of Oscar-winner Hayao Miyazaki, "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea", is about to be released. It is an occasion for Japan to show its admiration for the master of animation.


Oscar-winning Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki releases his first full-length film in four years this weekend, dropping computer graphics for his pencil to tell the story of a fish-girl and the sea.

"Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," which the reclusive 67-year-old both wrote and directed, will hit screens at cinemas across Japan on Saturday after weeks of intense media interest.

Inspired by the 19th-century fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, the story centres around a tiny fish-girl, Ponyo, who rides a jellyfish to escape her home in the sea.

She meets a five-year-old human boy, Sosuke, who vows to protect her, but Ponyo is taken back to the sea. Desperate to be a human and live with Sosuke, Ponyo heads to land again with help from her sisters.

Miyazaki is one of Japan's biggest cultural exports. His last film, "Howl's Moving Castle," broke opening box office records at home in 2004 before winning a cult following in Western and Asian nations.

Miyazaki, who had used computer graphics since "Princess Mononoke" in 1997, decided to shun hi-tech effects in his latest film.

"Our experience told us that what you can do electronically doesn't impress people much. We decided to go fully with pencils... That's our strength," he said in a recent interview with Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

The film used 170,000 hand-drawn pictures to animate characters and objects, a record number for a Miyazaki production.

It took one and a half years for 70 staff to draw the pictures, according to Studio Ghibli, which has released his works.

The film also uses numerous other manually drawn pictures as the background -- with the succession of screens creating a slightly jittery atmosphere to the film.

"All things in the world are moving. I became an animator in order to move everything in the world. It's not only human characters that move," Miyazaki said.

"Not only grass vacillates; the ground can move, too. I think delicate fluctuations give life to our production," he said.

"The world is a living thing. Small children know it," he said.

But Miyazaki, saying he wanted to create a visual world for children, regretted that children lost their way of seeing the Earth as they grew older.

The director said he has been working to "create a world that five-year-olds understand."

"Five-year-old kids do not think with reason but rather they understand the true nature of the world instinctively," he said.

In a message posted on the Ghibli website, Miyazaki said the upcoming film "animates the sea not as background but as a main character."

The film marks a firm return to the film world by Miyazaki, who has said repeatedly in the past that he wants to retire.

The 2004 release of "Howl's Moving Castle" was met by speculation that it would be Miyazaki's last film, raising concerns in Japan for the future of the lucrative animation industry.

Miyazaki's second to last film, "Spirited Away," won the Academy Award in 2003 for best animated feature, Japan's first Oscar for a full-length work in nearly half a century.

He received a Golden Lion award from the Venice international film festival in 2005 for lifetime achievement in cinema.

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