In modern Japan, Tokyo is expanding and considerably reducing animals' habitats, including those of the tanuki (raccoon-like creatures). What humanity doesn't know, though, is that tanuki are intelligent creatures, that can talk and even walk on two legs with the power of transformations! To secure their survival, the two combating tanuki clans join forces against mankind in a war they dub 'Pom Poko'! Humans are a difficult adversary, though... can the tanuki open mankind's eyes to the beauty of nature, before their homes are replaced by yet another suburb?
StoryWhen most people think of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s films tend to jump out and thwack you round the face in all their gorgeously animated glory, but what many may not realise is that Isao Takahata brings an equally impressive portfolio or work to the table. Part of the reason for my adoration of both the company’s founders comes from Takahata’s preference of placing greater focus on the Japanese way of life, its history, and mythology – and never has this been more prevalent than in his 1994 feature presentation, Pom Poko. In creating a solid, comprehensive, and ultimately entertaining narrative, Takahata makes excellent use of Japan’s rich and often wacky folklore by weaving so many legends, spirits, and monsters together that it’s like a mythologist’s wet dream. Of course the film’s central focus is the tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs), a particularly popular and mischievous youkai (monster). These furry critters possess the power of transformation and various folktales document their impish antics – some of which the film incorporates into its plot, such as one who would trick humans by changing leaves into money. Throughout the film, stories such as the tale of ‘The Noppera-bo of Akasaka Road’ (a terrifying faceless monster) appear as one of the tanuki’s many pranks. However, the culmination of their hard work comes in what is easily the most impressive scene of the entire movie. In order to scare the construction workers threatening to destroy their habitat, the tanuki decide to stage their own version of the ‘Hyakki Yako’ – or ‘Night Parade of a Hundred Demons’ – which is an old belief that during summer nights, various supernatural beings will take to the streets in a large parade leaving anyone who witnesses this spectacle to die. Naturally this scene lends itself beautifully to showcasing various youkai, from the Karakasa (a cyclopic umbrella demon) to the long-necked Rokuro-kubi, as well as a nice nod towards a Japanese children’s literary classic – ‘Night on the Galactic Railroad’ by Kenji Miyazawa. While a veritable ‘Where’s Wally’ of Japanese culture, any casual viewer is unlikely to fully appreciate the intricate details, in the same way that a non-anime fan would miss half the references that Lucky Star hurls at its audience. As much as I adore Miyazaki’s fantastical films that whisk you away on a magical adventure, I do love the versatility of Takahata’s direction. He prods, pokes and yanks at all the right tear ducts in the tragically spectacular Grave of the Fireflies, brandishes a totally different visual style in My Neighbours the Yamadas, and in the case of Pom Poko, transforms the plot into a mockumentary. With narration, interview-esque sound bites from the cast, and the use of a real life location (Tama Hills actually exists to the south west of Tokyo), Pom Poko’s faux-journalistic approach successfully relays the underlying message that humans should care more about nature and its inhabitants. While this technique of storytelling is a refreshing difference, it can make the movie that much more difficult to immerse yourself in. With commentary inserted into the narrative, each section of plot seems to come to a stop instead naturally flowing into the next, which creates an almost jarring sensation – much like the slight pause that occurs when a DVD switches layers.AnimationFor over twenty years Studio Ghibli has been consistently producing animation of an extraordinarily high quality, and Pom Poko is no different, with fluid movement displayed by each character or item feeling entirely natural – well as normal as shape-changing raccoon-balls can be anyway. Boasting lush green backgrounds juxtaposed with the barren construction zone and harsh machinery, the film creates a beautifully believable backdrop for the boisterous tanuki. Pom Poko’s character designs particularly impress. That each individual has their own distinct appearance is remarkable when considering the sheer size of the cast. On top of that, the film represents our furry protagonists in four different ways throughout, depending on the nature of the scene. Primarily they take on a delightful, family-friendly manifestation complete with items of clothing and various visual quirks to easily distinguish between them. Secondly it adopts a more simplistic, cutesy visage, in order to mirror the tanuki’s carefree nature, which often emerges during party sequences to enhance the merriment. Thirdly, they appear as ordinary and realistic raccoons to enhance the film’s documentary feel and depicts how they look to regular people. Finally, some take on the form of a person during the movie; this is particularly striking as each humanoid tanuki bears similar facial features to its more adorable counterpart and makes it relatively easy to differentiate who each character is.SoundThe voice acting in Pom Poko is top-notch, both in the original Japanese and the English dub. The suitable difference between the natural voicing of storyline sections and the sombre narration enhances the film’s overall execution and plays nicely alongside the animation to provide a pleasing all-round experience. Pom Poko scatters appropriate incidental music throughout with a score ranging from upbeat, whimsical tunes for the tanuki’s many parties, to more traditional melodies with a slight spiritual edge to reinforce the film’s mythical elements.CharactersBoasting a large cast, Pom Poko manages to successfully accord each individual tanuki their own personality, from the aggressive, war-mongering Gonta to the more passive and rational Shokichi. That being said, with so many protagonists running around, none really receive much exploration, nor do they really evolve – in fact if you’re not paying enough attention, many of the characters simply meld into one big, furry, testicle-stretching mass. As the credits roll, Gonta is just as quick to attack, and Shokichi continues to stand firm on his beliefs that they shouldn’t harm humans. While this isn’t a deficit per se, it would be nice to see more of a change, especially since the rest of the narrative develops so well. One particular trait that all the tanuki share is their laid-back and comical nature, which frequently shines through even during the most serious of times. Their inclination towards partying after each minor success, mischievous nature, and the tendency of steering near-on every conversation in the direction of food, provides Pom Poko with the majority of its humorous content. This carefree attitude makes the cast far more amiable and adds to the overall entertainment value, thus allowing everyone to enjoy it whether laughing at the tanuki’s pranks or guiltily sniggering at their little… err… ‘Raccoon Pouches’.OverallAs an environmentally based film that is little more serious than the likes of Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro, yet more light-hearted than Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Takahata’s Pom Poko is one of Studio Ghibli’s hidden gems. With a rich foundation of Japanese mythology and ecological issues, this film is one of the more intelligent movies out there, but the presence of cute, fun and fluffy tanuki also makes this an entertaining movie for the whole family.
Honestly, this has to be one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen from studio Ghibli. Not to say that its a bad thing, its more like others will react very strongly to the movie if they aren't familiar with some of the Japanese mythology that is focused on tanuki in general. And now I will explain what I think the film succeeded in and what it failed in. Story- The group of tanuki are rebelling against a surburban development project that is destroying the forest. There are many different arcs of narrative that take place in the movie, but I think the story didn't flow as well as it could have been. Even with the story reaching new parts like finding the old masters, it goes at a sluggish pace. Animation- The animation is actually one of the better parts of the film. The way the tanuki characters transform into objects, animals, people and monsters is fun to watch. Sound- From the sounds of battle to how the characters move and such is done well. Characters- This is probably one of the weaker parts of the movie. There are no lead characters to connect with or relate to, making them as bad as the humans they fight against. Overall- I think its easy to imagine why this Ghibli film is one of the more forgotten ones. It has its themes of war and preserving nature, but its rather done in a clumsy and obvious way compared to the smoothness of Princess Mononoke. It has its production value, but that alone isn't enough. Aside from the scrotum jokes and its weird sense of humor, it seems decent enough for kids to watch. But for older and wiser fans of Ghibli movies, there are much better films to be invested in compared to this one honestly.
The forests of Tama Hills are being rapidly destroyed due to urbanization. The raccoon dogs of the forest battle to protect their home using their long-forgotten transformation talents. The once silly and lazy raccoon dogs, or tanuki, determinedly disrupted construction with hauntings and pranks. The introduction to the story is told by a narrator, giving it a National Geographic documentary feel. You learn about the plight of the Tama tanuki through the narrator, and then as the story progresses, by the following the dialogue of the tanuki themselves. The tanuki are at first animated like realistic wildlife and transform into cuddly creatures who stand upright and speak. They are identifiable by the articles of clothing they wear. Pom Poko may appear to be family friendly, but at close to two hours with some serious pacing issues, I doubt a child would last 20 minutes. It is unfortunate--with a good editor to trim about 45 minutes off the top, the film would have been more widely accepted, in my opinion. Secondly, the anime features tanuki. You might be familiar with the tanuki statue--a raccoon dog wearing a straw hat, sporting an enlarged scrotum. The scrotum symbolizes good financial luck. In the film on several occasions, the tanuki enlarge their scrotums to be used as blankets, parachutes and a boat. This might lead to awkward conversations with children. My favorite part of movie was the Monster parade. The imaginative animation featuring yokai of Japanese folk lore was a delight to behold. At one hour six minutes, look for guest appearances from Kiki and Tombo and Totoro hidden within the parade. The film presents a theme of wildlife conservation. In fact, the tanuki break the fourth wall and talk about the fate of forest animals in the last scene. Upon deeper reflection, the movie is an analogy for the adaptation of the Japanese people. Traditional ideas battle modernization and only those who are willing to adapt or transform will persevere?.If you can sit still for two hours (maybe by watching one half of the movie at a time,) you will be rewarded with a magical glimpse at Japanese folk lore. Any fan of Ghibli will enjoy the studio's familiar man vs. nature plot with a tanuki twist.
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