From ancient times humans have personified the sea: monsters allow us to make sense of the unimaginable power and force of giant waves or Tsunami. The sea monster Omibozu is shown as a dark giant emerging from an immense wave, tipping a boat that is about to sink. The myth of Omibozu is connected with seasons and times: to set of to go fishing on the last day of the year is to risk death. Omibozu creates storms on the last day of the year. Any sailor who sets to sea on that day risks death.

More works by Kuniyoshi

Omibozu - Sea Monster Destroying Ships: Japanese Print

Omibozu by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861) [this work is in the public domain in the USA (CC PD-US)

Analysing the image

This print may surprise 21st century viewers because of its seemingly modern style: the dark (almost cartoon like) image of Omibozu is almost flattened, mad unreal and set in the background of a tumultuous scene.

The ship, and the sailor are about to be overwhelmed by a massive wave which appears to be driven forward by the huge figure of Omibozu. The sailor is turned away from us – looking in horror at his fate.

The lines of the craft, and the curved lines connecting the sailor and Omibozu direct our eye to the dark figure and to the text above. Foregrounded, the craft tips upwards, ready to meet its doom.

Anime: Ponyo

Moving 3 centuries, the cartoon film Ponyo on the Cliff  appeared in its original Japanese version with English subtitles. The animated film, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Toshio Suzuki was produced by renowned animation studio Studio Ghibli. Gaining awards for its powerful storytelling, this Anime epic include lead roles which situate the relationships of young creatures and their parents against the massive power of the ocean – the rules of a world they do not yet understand. h

Sōsuke is a human child, and Brunhilde is a fish-creature. However, both test the limits of what is allowed: Brunhilde explores beyond what is allowed – and becomes lost in a dangerous world. She chooses her own name – Ponyo.  Pony disobeys her father the sea god (wizard/scientist) Fujimoto, and finds herself in danger shifting between the sea and the land in a world where the ocean bed is trawled and destroyed by human beings in their greed to produce and sell the riches of the sea. Pony is almost killed in the net of a huge trawler whose dragnet destroys the ocean bed. But, caught in a bottle she floats to the shore where her prison/shelter shatters. The human child Sōsuke rescues Ponyo in a bucket of water – and brings her home to the human world as a pet/friend. However, Sōsuke cuts her finger on the broken glass.  When Ponyo licks the cut on Sōsuke’s finger, she is transformed into a changeling: a half-human being.

This brings  trouble to both young creatures but it also brings new understandings to their parents and to their respective worlds.

‘Ponyo’ includes scenes of Tsunami which hearken back to the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

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