Review by Ed Nguyen
Voices: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Clancy Brown, J.K. Simmons, Tress MacNeille,
Olivia D'Abo, Maurice LaMarche
Director: Isao Takahata
Audio: English or Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Video: Color, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Features: Original storyboards, trailers
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: August 16, 2005
will not stop attacking until we have battered, pulverized, and squeezed to
death every last human in Tama Hills!"
Ghibli is Japan's best animation company. Its
most renowned animator over the years has been Hayao Miyazaki, the creative
force behind such films as Princess
Mononoke and Spirited Away.
However, there are other fine talents at Studio Ghibli, too, including
Isao Takahata. Like Hayao Miyazaki,
he has specialized in thoughtful children's fantasies, including Grave
of the Fireflies (1988) and Pom Poko
the trend of Studio Ghibli's other environmentally-conscious films (Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind and the later Princess
Mononoke). The main characters
in Pom Poko are the raccoons of Tama Hills, or more accurately, tanuki
(Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus, or "raccoon dogs").
As humans encroach upon the forest lands of Japan, erecting ever more
apartments and shopping malls, native animals like the tanuki are increasingly
being displaced. Eventually, the
remaining tanuki decide the time has arrived to band together in an effort to
save their forests and homes.
in a quasi-documentary style, Pom Poko
traces the steps taken by the tanuki to re-master their ancient art of
transforming and to infiltrate into human society. At this point, most western audiences will probably be trying
to figure out just how these "raccoons" acquired such magical
doppelganger abilities. In fact, in
Japanese mythology, the tanuki is considered a mischievous (if occasionally
lazy) prankster capable of masterful mimicry.
The tanuki might as easily assume the guise of a human as of a tea kettle
or other inanimate object.
particularly key physical attribute of the wild tanuki is that they have
unusually large scrotums. This
feature is usually exaggerated in Japanese artistic depictions of tanuki, such
as with this film. While this
conceptual representation of the tanuki is readily acceptable in Japanese
culture, it does present an area of sensitivity for Disney in trying to make the
film suitable for children in this country (or more realistically, palatable for
their jittery parents). The
solution was to simply refer to the tanuki as raccoons with large abdomens or
we'll just ignore the fact that raccoons have no pouches and are not marsupials.
However, as Japanese artwork also tends to depict tanuki drumming upon
large bellies, Disney's solution is acceptable if imperfect and transparent. Nevertheless, if the thought of watching an animated cartoon
featuring creatures with large, transformable scrotums offends some people,
perhaps Pom Poko is not the film for
other unique cultural idiosyncrasies which may also defeat earnest efforts to
make the film comprehensible to western audiences.
The film draws significantly upon Japanese folklore and Buddhist or
Shinto symbolism for its decidedly colloquial ambiance.
Spirits, icons, and religious services abound in this film.
For the western viewer, perhaps the best way to approach Pom
Poko is simply to view it as an ecological fantasy and leave it at that.
documents a five-year campaign by the tanuki of Tama Hills against humanity.
Among the measures taken are research into human nature (television
watching being a particularly favorite for the lazy tanuki), regular
transformation classes, multiple deceptions and hauntings, encounters with those
ultimate shapeshifting tricksters - the kitsune (foxes), and assimilation into
human society as pseudo-humans. The tanuki are led by a counsel of elders (and later, a trio
of shapeshifting masters) who generally emphasize a less-antagonistic strategy
of protest and deceptive demonstration. Many
of the younger tanuki also favor such trickery to scare the humans away, but a
separate faction, led by the more aggressive Gonta, would like nothing better
than to wage an all-out guerilla warfare in an effort to kill every single human
in the Tama Hills region.
of these reconnaissance missions, surprise attacks, and forages into human
territory are recounted through a mixture of animť-style humor within a Nature
or National Geographic-style presentation. The result is an often amusing and quaint film about what
might be described in more paranoid circles as essentially a documentary about
an alien invasion.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers or War
of the Worlds, Pom Poko is not. Nor is
it quite as subversive as Animal Farm.
But, the film still offers a valid social commentary on the need to
preserve our forest lands and wildlife, particular by the time of the film's
somewhat poignant and inevitable conclusion.
The fact that the messengers are merely cartoon "raccoon dogs"
does not change the essence of the message - human beings must find a way to
peacefully co-exist with the natural world without irreparably destroying it.
TRIVIA: Waving a leaf helps a
tanuki during transformation. Children
familiar with the "tanooki" suit in the popular video game Super
Mario Brothers 3 are no doubt already accustomed to transforming Mario with
a magic leaf into his famous raccoon persona!
presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format.
The images are crisp and detailed, and colors are bright and solid
without bleed. The animation style
alternates between realistic renderings of the tanuki to more manga-style
caricatures and comic depictions of these creatures.
Overall, this is a fine transfer by Disney.
for Pom Poko is presented in either
English or Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Both are equally good, although the English dub will probably
make more sense to western audiences in terms of story-telling.
English subtitles are also available as either very loose and liberal
translations or literal and accurate translations of the Japanese dialogue.
presented as a two-disc set. The
first disc holds the movie as well as five minutes of trailers for Pom
Poko. Sneak peeks are also
available for Studio Ghibli's Spirited
Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Porco
Rosso, The Cat Returns, and Nausicaš
of the Valley of the Wind. Among
the Disney sneak peeks are promo ads for Cinderella,
Toy Story, Tarzan, and Valiant.
Two contains a feature-length storyboard sequence. Similar storyboard sequences can be found with other Studio
Ghibli films released on DVD by Disney, too.
The Pom Poko storyboards will
interest those viewers who wish to see how preliminary sketches and
compositional artwork translate to the final product of Pom Poko.