I first watched Ponyo 4 years ago, and ever since, it’s been one of my favourite movies!
I was touched by the magic, the story of devotional love, and the beauty of the ocean world. But it wasn’t until recently when I realized how relevant this movie may be to those who resonate with the mystical realm of mermaids...
Ponyo is a magical, red haired goldfish. It may not just be because of the red-haired mermaid character Ariel in Disney’s "The Little Mermaid”, that Ponyo was also depicted in this way. Doreen Virtue, who’s written about and delved into the topic of mermaids, did a survey and found that a majority of women who strongly felt they were mermaids had red hair or a red tint to their hair. Her survey also found that a majority of these women also had green eyes, or a green tint to their eyes. Through my own observations, I've personally come to believe there may be something to this finding- that these may indeed be common mermaid traits!
Ponyo’s mother, who is an ocean goddess, also has red hair. Ponyo says, “She’s big and beauuuutiful! But she can be scary sometimes.” This description reminds me of the goddess Yemaya, who is also a beautiful mother goddess of the ocean, often depicted as a mermaid. She is loving, but can also be wrathful if incurred- especially if her children are threatened. She is also known as the "mother of all the fish".
At one point in the movie, some sailors catch sight of her mother. They recognise her as a deity and honour her. And, they call her “the goddess of mercy”. The "Goddess of Mercy" is also known as 'Kuan Yin' in China, and 'Kannon' in Japan.
Kuan Yin is a goddess of compassion and a bodhisattva- someone who has attained enlightenment, but who has chosen to stay rather than to ascend, in service to humanity. She is determined to help humankind until all have also come to enlightenment. She is known as one who “hears the call” of others. She is held as a Divine Mother figure, is often depicted on a lotus and is connected to the water element.
Ponyo's father is a magician who used to be a human. He detests other humans and how they disrespectfully treat the Earth. He lives in the ocean and serves to maintain the balance of nature. He expresses his aim of bringing the Earth back to the Cambrian age, in pre-human condition. He represents the Mer realm's care and concern for the ocean, nature and Earth.
Her father is also a stereotypical “overprotective dad”, and keeps her and her little goldfish sisters contained. But Ponyo, like many mermaids, is independent and spirited. She escapes his boat so that she may see and experience what is outside, and she meets a little boy named Sosuke. The two love one another right away. He is the one who gives her the name Ponyo (her original name was Brunhilda).
The reference to the name “Brunhilda” must be significant. There is a Norse/Germanic story of a magical warrior named Brunhilda, who also defies her father. As a punishment, she is stripped of her magical powers, and held captive in a ring of fire. She is then saved by a man named Sigfried. They make a vow of love, but in the end, their story ends in tragedy.
The story of Ponyo and Sosuke, however, goes differently. And their story showcases the theme of devotional love. Romantic love and partnership is a theme linked to mermaids. After all, the element water has to do with emotions and relationships!
Sosuke expresses his devotional love to his mother about Ponyo, “She chose me! She’s my responsibility”.
And once Ponyo meets Sosuke, she is determined to be with him. Even when her father catches her and brings her back, she escapes to return to him again with one-pointed focus.
With magical powers, she gradually shape shifts into human form- but in her escape, she spilled some magical elixirs on her father’s boat that set the world off-balance.
Her parents get together over this urgent matter, and come to the conclusion that they will approach Sosuke to make a choice. He will either pledge to commit to her and love her as she is, knowing that she is a fish. And Ponyo must be willing to be with him, knowing that she will also become a human, and lose her magic. Or if he refuses, she will become sea foam.
The mother comforts the magician about this risk by stating, “Yes, she could become foam- but that is where we all come from.”Venus, who is also known by some as the older sister of Mother Earth, was born from sea foam. This myth infers that we all indeed come from the waters.
Also, in the film, Sosuke’s mother’s car has the license plate number “333”.
Three is a number that is linked to the Mer realm. And 3 is considered a feminine number, because of the concept of the triple goddess- "The Maiden, Mother and Crone".
Also, in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, the 3rd Sephiroth is Binah- a representative of the Divine Feminine.
And finally, Kuan Yin’s number is “33”, as well.
The Mer world is largely feminine, as the element water is considered feminine. It is an element of gestation. The ocean is the womb of the earth.
Not only is “Ponyo” a wonderful, beautiful story of devotional love, magic, nature and adventure- it is rich with Mer references! If you haven’t watched it yet, do check it out.