Felt like an anime day today, so I plundered my Studio Ghibli DVDs for something I hadn’t watched in a while. “Pom Poko” is a nice light-hearted one, though I always recalled it was a long one. It turns out it’s 2 hours long, so it’s not that bad.
Anyway, it follows an important period in the history of a community of tanuki – Japanese raccoon dogs – as they struggle to adapt to the pressures of human development in their forest homeland. As a result the film has a strong environmental message, something Ghibli are no strangers to, having addressed this theme in “Nausicaa”, and would do shortly afterwards in their watershed feature “Princess Mononoke”.
Tanuki are typically likeable creatures. Playful, childish and lazy, they also possess the ability to change their appearance. After training, which takes up a large portion of the early film, they can turn into inanimate objects, other living creatures (even people), and even project all manner of spectacular hallucinations.
With the boundless imagination of Ghibli, there are some incredible set-pieces using this power. ‘Project Spectre’, the various hauntings of the development site, the finale, it all looks great. As entertaining as that are the failed attempts to transform during the training sessions.
Some aspects feel a little lost in translation, some of the dubbed songs sound weird, and the tanukis’ emphasis on their testicles is skirted around in the English dub (they use ‘pouches’ instead…). But the majority of the film is perfectly suited to the foreign otaku who revels in this sort of folklore and bizarre antics that are evidently so normal they require no explanation to their Japanese audience.
The light tone is offset with regular doses of reality; death and unrest are never far away from the action, and while the closing scenes lay it on a bit thick, I’d like to think it made some people think a bit more about conservation. That seemed to come at the cost of a typical happy ending, with a slightly unsatisfying conclusion to the story, but I guess that was the point, their problems weren’t resolved.
Anyway it’s well worth a look, particularly if you like the cuter side of anime, but feel that notable Ghibli entries like “Ponyo” and “My Neighbour Totoro” are a bit too kiddy.