Ponyo: Asian Beef and Ramen Noodles

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Liam Neeson, Tina Fey
(G, 101 min.)

"Great love can both take hold and let go." O.R. Orage

Gone are wisecracking animals, and bigger than life villains; in place are creations both whimsical and surrealThis Japanese animation is very much like its imagery, which more resembles soft impressionist watercolors than what we’ve come to expect from our American feature length cartoons. 

Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) is a magical goldfish like creature who longs to venture forth from her safe bubble of existence under sea. There she and her sisters – a school of smaller Ponyo creatures lacking her resolve – are kept safe under the protective wing of their father, Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) an indeterminate cross between Captain Nemo and Tiny Tim ( the long, tall falsetto singer, not the Dickens character.) Once a human, he has turned on the "vile race" that he sees as nothing but a source of filth and pollution.

He mixes special elixirs to restore the balance of the undersea world, then syringes them into the sea from his narrow perch on the prow of his magical ship. With each drop the pale oceans become a kaleidoscope of color and life.

Perhaps like all children of those intent on saving the world, Ponyo feels both neglected and bored, and she soon escapes into the sea. Barely has she left the safe bubble of her jellyfish umbrella when she is trapped in another more threatening one, a discarded glass jar.

When she washes ashore, five-year-old Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) cracks open the bottle to free her, cutting himself in the process. The obliging Ponyo licks his cut and smiles up at him. Like "The Little Mermaid" of Hans Christian Andersen fame, Ponyo too longs to be human, to rejoin that despicable race that her father has so vehemently rejected.

The rest of the film chronicles the conflict between the magical daughter and her powerful father, a conflict which overspills into the greater reaches of land, sea, and sky, threatening the world as we know it.

Many critics recognize the film’s strong environmental message stressing our need to restore the balance of nature. However, to the film’s credit, there is balance in the approach as well as the concept. Fujimoto, it seems, is as out of balance as his lamented sea. He wishes to destroy all humankind and return to a prehistoric aquatic era. Thus, the wise Miyazaki warns us equally against the cures offered by environmental extremists. It is, after all, the accidental unleashing of Fujimoto’s elixirs that sets forth the tsunami that rushes ashore.

Dangerous as the tsunami is, it provides a delicious visual treat, as Ponyo, having wished herself arms, legs, and a little girl’s body, sprints atop the waves as they lick the seashore. The waves are alive, too, portrayed by Miyazaki as sort of liquid whales, and Ponyo’s race along their backs is pure joy.

Sosuke rescues her when she washes ashore hear his hilltop home, having no idea that the little goldfish he named Ponyo has morphed from a finger-sized tadpole of a creature into a red-haired girl in a ruffled dress. Free of adult logic, he immediately accepts her new form. We are reminded of the world of Mark Twain, where imagination trumps experience every time, with the child having vastly superior insights than the adult.

As in Twain’s world, many of the adults in Ponyo are trapped in their insular worlds of experience as well. Lisa (Tina Fey) is Sosuke’s mother, is well meaning enough, but her love is not as unconditional as Sosuke’s is for his Ponyo, whom he loves equally well as goldfish or girl. Lisa, on the other hand, becomes unhinged when her seafaring husband remains at sea longer than promised, and resorts to spite when he signals her as his ship passes their house. His words of love are returned by her “BUG OFF” message signaled in light bursts of morse code for all his crew to see.

She isn’t exactly the best driver, either, a source of some comic relief as the little car careens along the mountainous road home just barely ahead of a raging ocean that seems intent on swallowing her and her young son.

The wheel chair bound seniors at the nursing home where Lisa works, for the most part, have returned to their childlike superior vision, relishing the small joys of life instead of dwelling on their losses. Sosuke’s origami figures are a delight, as is the early Ponyo, brought to them as the smiling goldfish in the green plastic bucket. Betty White, Cloris Leachman, and Lily Tomlin bring each of their characters a special sparkle with their well-loved and distinctive voices.

Youngsters will love and accept the magic as easily as Sosuke does. Lisa’s car as it races just ahead of a devouring sea, Ponyo gleefully running atop the waves, a toy boat magically transformed into real one (my grandson’s favorite scene) – these images will thrill and delight without ever generating real fear. All qualities in short supply today, in real life and at the movies.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

After Ponyo is “rescued” from the sea, Sosuke’s mother wraps her up in a warm towel and puts on the teapot. Can you think of anything else so comforting than being enveloped in soft terrycloth and hearing the steaming whistle of a teakettle?

Well, maybe -- when the steaming water is poured over a nest of noodles and you impatiently wait for the crunchy block to become soft and warm squiggles of ramen.

I’ve found a nice beefed up –literally – version of Ramen noodles. Now that the few cool hints of autumn are upon us, is there anything simpler or more comforting, not to mention more economical, than good old Ramen Noodles?

Enjoy. You deserve them even if you haven’t just survived your transition from goldfish to little girl.

Asian Beef and Ramen Noodles

Beef is easier to slice thinly if it is partially frozen. Freeze the beef for 30 minutes before slicing.

Prep Time: :15
Cook Time: :20


  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 lb. beef top sirloin, thinly sliced
  • 2 (3 oz.) pkgs. Oriental flavor instant ramen noodles
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups frozen broccoli and carrots, thawed and drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 cups snow pea pods

Discard one seasoning packet from the ramen noodles and break the noodles into pieces. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add thinly sliced beef and cook and stir for 3 minutes. Remove the meat and toss with 1/2 of one seasoning packet from the noodles. Set aside.

Add the onion, garlic, and the broccoli and carrots and sauté until almost cooked, about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the red bell pepper. Add water, ground ginger, noodles, rest of seasoning packet, and snow pea pods and stir. Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the noodles and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the beef and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute longer and serve. 4-6 servings.

Recipe Source: About.com