Faced with the destruction of their habitat due to the growth of Tokyo, a group of tanuki try to defend their homes. They decide to use their transforming talents to try to hold back the new development. Two of them, especially skilled at transforming, are sent to Shikoku to enlist the help of three sages. Meanwhile, the rest of them do their best to disrupt the construction site, at first causing accidents, and then actually haunting the site. However, the humans are very persistent, and soon the tanuki are forced to use more and more extreme measures to save their home.
Quite possibly the most disappointing Ghibli work I've ever seen, and certainly the worst film they've ever done. Between the mean-spirited cast and heavy handed messages about not destroying the environment that even makes Captain Planet look subtle, it seems to want to make audience feel bad instead of entertain them. Because that's what people go to a move theater to see...a lecture by animated tanuki about not screwing up their world. It doesn't help that Pom Poko is too risque for kids (with the transformations involving tanuiki testicles and all), but is too childish for adults. It really doesn't satisfy anyone..unless you happen to
be a Studio Ghibli nut who must see everything ever animated by the studio. I'd pass or rent it otherwise.
Pom Poko is one of my favorite anime movies, although that's not to say it's a perfect movie. The documentary-style opening , complete with uninspired narration, will lull most people into a false sense of security before the second half. If you can stay awake for the second half, prepare to be blown away.
The Tanuki's transformation prowess here makes for some of the of the most imaginative and unrestrained animation I've ever seen. A careful eye will notice Kiki, Totoro, Porco Rosso, and Galaxy Express 999 during the parade sequence. The tanuki themselves fluidly turn without restraint into hyperrealistic, humanistic, and charicature forms.
(the third being a homage to a classic manga-ka)
The characters for the most part aren't very notable, more important is the interactions in the community.
Pom Poko is easily the most misunderstood movie put out by Studio Ghibli. While there is some environmentalist message there, I feel this movie is more about adapting. In fact, while the main characters are raccoons, they represent the Japanese society, and how it has to cope with tradition being overtaken by technology. The older raccoons wear traditional kimonos and plan to wipe out the humans developing on their land. The grand masters apparently inspired Japanese deities-(the oldest master being 999 years old.)
Eventually the tanuki learn to hide among the humans (modernize) but, not before one last battle. Most people view the battle as humorous, and it is indeed the most commented part of the movie (because of what, exactly the tanukis transform.) But I see it as an act of desperation, putting their very manhood on the line for one last hopeless push. The aftermath of the battle is all the warriors' dead bodies being dumped in a huge pile, more reminiscent of Auschwitz than a Disney movie.
Because of the overwhelming circumstances the main characters must fight against, I found this movie to be sadder than Grave of the Fireflies, Takahata's much more famous work. This isn't Fern Gully or Avatar however, the tanuki are full of flaws. When they steal a TV to learn more about humans, they become couch potatoes instead. In another scene, they feast upon stolen McDonalds hamburgers.
This is a very Japanese movie, it is filled with references to Japanese culture, mythology, yokai, folklore, and culture. This can make it dense and unappealing to some. They say that a truly good film is universal, but after seeing this film I disagree.
Truly a great movie, one of the best. However, it might take a little patience on the viewer's part to fully enjoy. One of the best- but you might want to watch it in two parts.
Another Studio Ghibli masterpiece, and produced by anime genius Hayao Miyazaki, Pom Poko brings something new to the table: Animals who, instead of fleeing from the deforestation that threatens them, choose to resort to a different method by turning the tables on the humans that shamelessly and thoughtlessly tear away at their homes. Based on the Japanese Tanuki folklore, many of the raccoons featured in Pom Poko have magical shape shifting powers, some a little more rusty than others. These creatures begin to notice their food and shelter becoming scarce after the invasion of their land by the crew of new housing construction, and must
call on their elders, the masters of transformation, to teach them how to change their shapes. They hope to use these abilities in many different ways, but all for one sole purpose: to reclaim the land that is being stolen from them.
Though in the film they are introduced as raccoons, the Tanuki folklore is centered around a very different breed, known as the raccoon dog. In either case, the creatures in this movie are far too plump to be easily identified, doubly so with the fact that in the movie, the raccoons do not possess the famous ringed-tail that raccoons are known for. Studio Ghibli's depictions of the Tanuki are nonetheless charming and adorable. Even the mean and stuffy raccoons are hard characters to hate.
Also featured briefly in the film is another creature of folklore known at the Kitsune, a transforming fox, which in the film tries to convince the raccoons to stop their personal war with the humans and instead use their shape shifting abilities to change into humans and begin new lives. This decision is widely argued over in the film, partly because of the raccoons' inability to transform into convincing humans.
I think a child would thoroughly enjoy this movie, however, here's where the warnings begin to come in. I had not been familiar with the Tanuki folklore before I watched this movie, so was surprised to discover that until about an hour through the movie, I had not noticed the raccoons' exposed genitalia. I later learn that this exposure is a prominent detail of the Tanuki in folklore, representing good luck financially. Though it may seem overly risque to the unknowing, their exposure is never, in the lore or the film, intended as sexual, and the film does not illustrate them sexually either. Rather, in the film they use what is referred to in the English dub as their "Pouches" to contribute to their shifting, such as parachutes which are seen later in the film.
Other material in the film include the deaths of humans and several raccoons, and though there is occasionally blood, it is never graphic. Additionally, there is a short scene narrated by one of the raccoons talking about how, because of lack of food and sheltering, they must halt breeding. While the raccoon talks about the female raccoons making sure this rule is kept, we see male raccoons charging at female raccoons, some seemingly drunk, and the female raccoons using karate moves to fight back, which implies their attempts to cease reproduction. Some female raccoons also have exaggerated breast size with occasional cleavage.
This movie I predict would otherwise be a delightful watch for children, even if they have to watch for 2 hours waiting for the conclusion. I extend yet another ovation for Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki.
Fans who remember Isao Takahata best for his relentless tearjerker, "Grave of the Fireflies", could very well react with surprise and shock upon viewing "Pom Poko". This lavishly animated tale about raccoons battling for their homeland (which was the biggest hit of 1994 in Japan) isn't so much a heartwrenching tragedy as it is an interesting amalgam of humor, drama, and action--all delivered in a way that is daringly original for animation. At times, the viewer gets treated to scenes which recall the one-two-three emotional punch of "Grave of the Fireflies", but even though the tone of the movie is somber, a handful of lighthearted
moments elevate the overall production out of depression.
As this is a Studio Ghibli film, production values are spectacular. Backgrounds are painted with a tasteful mixture of simplicity and art, and the raccoons are as cuddlesome as you would expect--especially when they shape-shift from "ordinary" animals to Saturday-morning-cartoon style critters in the style of shows such as "Care Bears". (If you're scratching your head while reading this, don't be alarmed--according to Japanese folklore, raccoons have the power to transform into anything--including human beings!) The actual animation is as colorful and imaginative as you might expect from a Ghibli movie--and there is one scene where we are treated to cameo appearances by Porco Rosso, Kiki, and Totoro.
While "Pom Poko" has a story to tell and a meaningful message for one to think about, its character and plot aspects may come across as a bit off-putting to viewers expecting a typical animated feature. Indeed, while some raccoons identify themselves with distinguishable names and/or personalities (for example, Gonta is a burly, rough-and-ready raccoon who is always looking for a fight, while Oroku is the "wise woman" of the tribe), the story offers little in the way of character development. In fact, most of the action in the story is narrated (by Maurice LaMarche in English, Kokondei Shinchou in Japanese), which elevates the overall effect of the movie to that of a semi-documentary. For the most part, this approach works to a very interesting degree and is a refreshing change of pace. However, there were some scenes in the movie where I wished the narration could have been reduced a little bit, as it sometimes gets in the way of appreciating the beauty of the visuals onscreen.
Aside from this, the biggest controversy about "Pom Poko" seems to be centered on several scenes where the raccoons can inflate and/or transform their testicles(!) for multiple purposes. One particular scene involves a raccoon flattening his testicles against a truck, causing its driver to crash. Such moments may be alarming to children, but it is important to remember that while we see the testicles at times, the movie is, after all, animated. Even still, while a Japanese audience may take such scenes naturally, squeamish viewers in America could react differently. In fact, as a solution to handling this kind of translation issue, the English language version (produced once again by Disney) refers to the testicles as "pouches". That's a somewhat awkward decision, but it sure beats digitally removing the testicles from the scenes they're in.
"Pom Poko" was obviously a nightmare for English dub writers Cindy and Donald Hewitt to translate (especially since much of the movie is rooted in Japanese culture), but I really have to commend them for their efforts. There is some Americanizing here and there, but there was little, if any, that I could find missing in their script. In fact, I was most impressed at how they handled the songs; while at least two of them come across as a little contrived and/or corny, others flow so naturally that you never would have sworn that these were originally Japanese folksongs.
Another interesting aspect of the dub is the voice acting. With the exception of Jonathan Taylor Thomas (star of TV's "Home Improvement"), the cast consists of veteran performers who are known for cartoon voice work; Tress MacNeille, John DiMaggio, Russi Taylor, Andre Stojka, and Clancy Brown, to name a few. Whether this was done to cut down on costs for big-name stars or for avoiding aural distraction is unclear, but when listening to the spirit and energy that the aforementioned voice artists give their characters, it really doesn't matter.
"Pom Poko" may be an unusual entry from Isao Takahata, and its foreign aspects may not appeal to everyone, but if given a chance, the film offers a colorful display of imagination and pathos as well as an experience unlike many that one will find from ordinary cartoons.
Let's take a quick jog around memory lane and remember those anime you used to watch and enjoy as kids. Feel the nostalgia and see if your favorites made the list and discover more that other children enjoyed.