Film Review: Pom Poko
In 1994, Isao Takahata released Pom Poko, based on the Japanese folklore surrounding the Tanuki. Starring Kokontei Shinchou, Makoto Nonomura, Norihei Miki, Nijiko Kiyoawa, Shigeru Izumiya, Gannosuke Ashiya, Takehiro Murata, Beichou Katsura, Katsura Bunshi VI, Kosan Yanagiya, Akira Kamiya, and Yuriko Ishida, with Maurice LaMarche, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, J. K. Simmons, Tress MacNeille, Clancy Brown, Jess Harnell, Kevin Michael Richardson, Brian George, Brian Posehn, John DiMaggio, and Marc Donato providing voices for the English dub, the film earned ¥2.63 in distribution income. It was also chosen as the Japanese submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language, which the Russian film Burnt by the Sun won.
In Japan during the late 1960s, a group of tanuki are threatened by the New Tama suburban development project in the Tama Hills on the outskirts of Tokyo. The development cuts into their forest and divides their land but 40 years later, they find themselves with limited space and food, which is decreasing every year. But in the middle of the groups fighting among themselves, they decide to unify in order to stop the development.
A return to fantasy for Studio Ghibli following its exploration of nostalgia in its prior film, Pom Poko is another well-done, fun and interesting film, even though it seems to be a little more conspicuous in its environmentalist message than other Ghibli films. It’s quite visually appealing, especially in its portrayal of the tanuki. Depending on the situation they have three different depictions. Whenever they’re in a realistic situation, such as near the ending when the humans are looking and marveling them as animals, they look realistic. But when they’re the central focus of attention, which is during most of the film, they turn anthropomorphic and gain voices. Finally, when the focus is on their mythical powers, the film tends to show them in a more cartoonish light. The anatomy of the tanuki also needs mentioning. As the creatures present in many stories of Japanese folklore, those growing up with the stories of their transforming abilities are well aware of how endowed they are. Thus, seeing their anatomical features in the film would be rather normal. However, for every other culture watching the film, especially when the English dub refers to them as pouches, it’s a rather interesting example of cultural differences.
But there’s still quite a lot of humor throughout the film that does translate well. The funniest scene happens to be when a police officer walks up to a crying woman who reveals she has no face, only for him to freak out and run into a police officer and people in a convenience store who also have no faces. The people are actually tanuki and the initial revelation of the woman having no face in addition to the reaction by the police officer throughout the scene is incredibly hilarious. There’s also the time the tanuki attempt to scare off the humans by tossing garbage at them whenever the humans litter. The humorous aspect of this part comes when a family is having a picnic and the boy is wondering where to put his leftovers. They use the same ominous voice to tell him that he should leave it there.
Speaking of humans, the film notably doesn’t go out of its way to make them into monsters who seek to destroy the environment. Rather, the film shows them as expanding and in need of the room just as much as the tanuki. It also shows them as willing to share, seen when the tanuki finally reveal themselves to the media to show that they need the space as well. The humans are seen as willing to be able to compromise with the tanuki due to how people also like greenery. However, it also shows that humans are willing to take credit for something when it suits them as the owner of the amusement park who claims that the tanuki’s Project Spectre was a publicity stunt.
While the film is considerably more overt in its furthering of Ghibli’s environmentalist message, it still does well. Here, the plot seems to show the plights of the environmentalist movements, displaying that while different groups have disagreements, their efforts are towards a common goal. However, they don’t have the greatest understanding of tactics and are outnumbered by various interests, which essentially do them in.
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