Creator: Isao Takahata
Genre: Ecological Fantasy
Length: Movie (1:56)
Purchase: Here from Amazon.com
+ Beautiful Studio Ghibli animation
+ Movie depicts important themes without being preachy
+ Scenes of violence are tempered with moments of comedy and singing
Story is told more through narration
+/ Tanuki use of tentacles may be viewed as phallic
Pom Poko depicts the destruction of the environment and the plight of animals in a way that is both entertaining and meaningful without getting preachy. It could be about the destruction of nature in any
place where rampant urbanization is encroaching on animal habitats.
Fans of the fantasy films directed by Hayao Miyazaki should not overlook the work of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata. For those who know Takahata's work only from Grave of the Fireflies films like Pom Poko demonstrate that he is not a one note director.
4 out of 5 · Higly Recommended
Pom Poko Anime Movie Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 11/13/2006
To many in the United States, Studio Ghibli is most often associated with the fantasy films of Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli was co-founded, however, by Miyazaki's close friend Isao Takahata. Takahata, best known for Grave of the Fireflies, creates films that more often deal with the foibles and wickedness of modern and contemporary Japanese life rather than the comic book fantasies associated with Miyazaki. In fact it has been argued by some critics that if weren't for the influences of Takahata, Miyazaki's films would lack their famous emphasis on social concerns. Takahata's 1994 film, Pom Poko tells the story of a tribe of raccoons as they struggle to save their forest home from rampant urban development.
In typical cute animal fashion, when human beings aren't looking raccoons walk on two feet and in this film live a tribal life akin to human beings of early Japanese history, complete with priests, samurai battles, and even folk magic. The opening narration depicts life for one tribe of raccoons before Japan's rapid economic development. They lived peacefully on a deserted farm complete with a garden and easy access to the small prey animals raccoons crave. In 1967 that began to change as Japan's rapid economic growth necessitated more and more urbanization. Eventually the raccoons' home is transformed into a cold and sterile suburban development – one of the largest in Japan and the warring tribes of raccoons set aside there differences in an attempt to win back their forest home.
Takahata is more overtly critical of Japanese society than Miyazaki. While Miyazaki's films criticize human violence and greed in general, his criticisms of Japanese culture in particular tend to be subtle jabs rather than overt attacks. From the early frames of Pom Poko depicting giant steam shovels tearing down whole mountains and a sly narrator comparing humans to Buddha and the gods, Takahata pulls no punches. Nothing is sacred. Not even Japanese temples. The film often plays like a documentary of the raccoons' efforts to win back their home and Takahata uses this form to skewer everything from Television to McDonald's hamburgers. He even takes jabs at the reverence for samurai and Japanese obsession with the supernatural.
Re-learning the long lost art of metamorphosis, the raccoons infiltrate human society. The early sequences of young raccoons interacting with people have both an amusing and satiric tone to them. Amusing when the raccoons nearly give themselves away giving into their temptation to eat out of the garbage or forget how to cross the street with the walk light and satiric when, in an effort to keep up their energy, they take up the current obsession with canned energy drinks. Using their transformation skills they begin sabotaging the construction site by luring trucks off the roads and into pits. When the human residents of the area begin questioning the viability of the so-called Tama New Town development, the young raccoons celebrate an apparent early victory.
Show More The celebration comes to an end when it is announced on Television that the development may go ahead as scheduled regardless of the "accidents" at the construction site. Yet some of the human residents raise concerns over the destruction of local temple, they believe the accidents at the construction site to be the work of angry gods. Taking advantage of Japanese superstitions and spiritual beliefs the raccoons take the form of temple idols and supernatural, forcing many humans to change their construction plans. Mocking the Japanese obsession with ghosts, Takahata depicts other humans tormented by raccoons taking the forms of ghosts and monsters. In one memorable scene a young police officer is pursued by dozens of raccoons in the form of faceless ghosts until he faints from shear panic in a convenience store. The "hauntings" don't stop the construction – however the New Town development becomes famous for its ghosts. The high spirited young raccoons celebrate their notoriety but Gonta, one of the older warriors believes the only way to drive away the humans is by killing them. The raccoons are somewhat divided on this point – especially some of the youngsters addicted to human foods such as tempura and hamburgers. Eventually two of the raccoons depart the village to track down the ancient Masters of Metamorphosis while the others continue their pranks and hauntings.
Takahata takes full advantage of animation as his raccoon characters transform themselves into everything from small children to giant hands. He is a master of animation, skillfully blending naturalistic backgrounds with raccoon characters that are sometimes depicted naturalistically and sometimes as cartoon-y characters with distinctive personalities and individual features, costumes, and mannerisms. And his sense of outrage at the destruction of the wilderness is tempered by a sense of humor that is both scathing and gentle. And as in most anime, there is time for contemplation as when two of the raccoons stargaze, play ball and discus their past.
Show More As the raccoons' plan progresses it seems that they may be on the verge of victory when they are able to drive the workmen away but somehow the construction company is able to recruit new workers as quickly as the raccoons can run them off. The incidents at the development are increasingly debated in the news media with reports that they have been the work of foxes or raccoons dismissed out of hand. The raccoons also run into a snag when spring arrives and many of them can not maintain the vows of chastity that they took to control the population. More mouths to feed only tax the already thin sources of food. And the raccoons find themselves increasingly divided between the warlike Gonta and the more sensible Sokichi. Gonta demands immediate military action while Sokichi suggests waiting for the Masters of Metamorphosis. Sokichi also proposes rationing, traffic safety instruction, and rescue teams for the many raccoons caught in traps. Meanwhile the messengers sent to bring the Masters of Metamorphosis have run into their own problems. One of the Messengers has made contact with a group of masters but they quickly get mired in debate. In a scene straight from a samurai period melodrama, the messenger discusses the deadlock with his new wife. She if glad of the delay because it means she will be able to spend more time with him. The messenger grimly tells her that such happiness is only temporary. The other messenger doesn't find the master he is looking for at all.
When the Masters do finally arrive, they teach the raccoons that in order to regain the respect that humans once had for raccoons they must do something truly awe inspiring and frightening. In a beautifully animated scene, the raccoons parade through town endlessly transforming into gods and demons from the Japanese pantheon. The raccoons take so many forms in fact that the viewer might want to keep an illustrated guide to Japanese folklore close at hand in order to understand them all. The trick seems to be effective until the owners of a new amusement park take credit for the parade, calling it a surprise entertainment to publicize the parks impending opening.
When the parade fails, a fast talking fox who has been living as a human, attempts to persuade one of the Raccoon Masters that the raccoons' only choice is to live in the city as humans. The fox sings a scathing and satirical song about the need for money to make a living in human society. He even suggests that the raccoons take jobs working in the very amusement park that has taken the credit for the raccoons' ghost parade. This suggestion only serves to further divide the raccoons – too many raccoons are unable to transform into humans what would they do? The film eventually arrives at a solution that is simple, elegant, and melancholy. The next time you meet a chubby human with a playful spirit but bags under his or her eyes as if they may topple over from exhaustion at any moment, you might ask yourself is this man or is this raccoon?
Isao Takahata's Pom Poko uses the form of a cute animal cartoon to tell a story that is sweet, thoughtful, and melancholy all at once. It is often as happy and joyous as Grave of the Fireflies is tragic. The characters are beautifully animated and believably written. When one of the raccoons discuses love, war, or honor these thoughts are coming from the perspective of an individual with a real and fully rounded personality. The script is also often scathingly funny as it satirizes everything from Japanese superstitions to the eco-terrorists who use violence to protect the environment. It is not at all a typical cute animal cartoon. It is in fact the kind of film one wishes the American animation studios would produce.
For General Off-Topic ChatChat Room
English scanlation spoilers allowed but put an ALERT! User Comments | Post
Before posting, please follow the rules in this link.
The new Disqus is here so please set your "Discussion" to "Newest".
- Do not ask when chapters will come out or where to download anything
- No discussion on raw/non-English scanlations that have not come out in English
- Do not spam messages, link to anime/manga sites, troll, use excessive bad language, or attack users