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Unlike Miyazaki, who can leave us guessing sometimes, Takahata (Grave of
Fireflies) has a knack of hitting us over the head with a sledgehammer
message, leaving us only with the desire to be hit again and again. We
given a view from the Tanuki (a kind of badger) perspective of human
encroachment on their environment. Takahata gives the Tanuki all the
that Japanese folklore ascribe to them, including the power to change
appearance at a molecular level, a full awareness of Japanese political
geography, the ability to speak and write Japanese, and apparently their
Emperor (as they refer to the years of Pompoko). He also gives them
limitations, such as the inability to remain serious for any length of
and the general tendency toward sloth and partying. Many Japanese even
believe Tanuki can transform.
In this story, the ability to transform is not universal nor is it a task they can undertake without stress. These capabilities and limitations work for and against the Tanuki throughout the film in humorous, touching, and tragic ways.
The principle characters lived in the western outskirts of Tokyo in the late '60s, when a massive suburban bedtown, called "Tama New Town" was being built (This is a real place). They want to stop or reverse the progress of the construction, but are divided in how to accomplish this fact. One of the more extreme members favors killing the humans and driving them all out--until he is reminded that he won't be able to eat certain foods, such as hamburgers, potato chips, or Tempura. The story is focused on their efforts to stop the project and the events leading to the conclusion of the characters' situation.
This film will have a bit of difficulty with US distribution for a number of reasons--the biggest being the fact that you can tell the genders of the Tanuki by looking at the males. The DVD of this film will be released shortly in Japan and will include English subtitles. Unfortunately, Japan uses Region 2 encoding and their DVDs won't play on American Region 1 sets. Unless you're willing to wait forever for Disney to figure out how to distribute this masterpiece, it's worth buying an all-region DVD player just to see it. I give this film a 10 out of 10 rating.
I just had the opportunity to finally see "Pom Poko," thanks to
Disney's stateside DVD release. Fortunately, the dub is fantastic --
any qualms about "confusing" Japanese folktales and such seem to have
been taken care of with the quality translation. The voice actors (only
one "name" actor, a very fine/unrecognizable Jonathan Taylor Thomas)
acquit themselves quite nicely, and it might be one of the best dubs
I've ever heard.
The infamous enlarged scrotums, I'm happy to report, are such a small part of the entire experience that the fact that it was so dwelled on by dozens upon dozens of people for years prior to domestic DVD release is saddening. At first, yes, when a "pouch" is magically (and humorously) transformed into a red rug, it's amusing and a bit shocking. But that feeling wears off almost instantly.
Even though they changed the references of "scrotum" to "pouch," I'm still surprised Disney had the balls (pun intended) to release it, given their standards for "family"-esque (safe and arguably predictable) entertainment. There are a couple glimpses of actual nudity (breasts) and some humans die in rather morbid ways. I'm not inferring that I wish they hadn't released it, for if they had not I would have never seen it. I'm just happy with their decision. For once, at least in recent times, I feel the need to thank Disney whole heartedly.
The film itself is such a pleasure. It moves briskly, contains *beautiful* images and is endlessly entertaining. A large part of it's success is due to the constant narration; as others have noted, it almost seems like an exquisite documentary at times.
The story is simple yet effective: humans are destroying a community of tanukis, and the tanukis do everything they can to help preserve their home in way of transformation. It's often funny and adorable, but what's somewhat unexpected is the amount you'll be moved by their struggle. The ending, criticized by some, almost moved me to tears. I won't explain what happens, but some wise things are said.
As you probably know, the tanukis are somewhat distractingly called "raccoons" in the dub. I'm willing to forgive Disney for this obvious error, though, as they resemble the latter to a pretty high degree. And I'm sure it made it easier on the translators for lip synchronization (two syllables).
Not so surprising: "Pom Poko" was the top box office smash in Japan the year it came out (and Japan's own submission for best foreign film Oscar). Regardless of the minor violence/nudity/inflated scrotums (ahem), this film will appeal to anyone with a heart and a brain. It's not some minor little piece about tanukis humorously fending off humans, even if it sometimes appears to be. It's a major statement about man vs. nature, and it's often beautiful and witty and intelligent, the sort of thing most non-animated films aspire to be.
I know this might sound rash and pretentious, but I watched two films tonight: "Laputa" (Japanese with subtitles) and "Pom Poko" (English dub). Oddly, I liked this film more. Here's hoping that master director Takahata's underrated treasure will win over more viewers, thanks to Disney's recent bare-bones DVD release and the eventual airing on Turner Classic Movies this January.
This a very different, more dynamic film than a lot of other Ghibli works.
Although it bears some thematic resemblance to "Mononoke" and "Naussica" in
its nature vs. man plot, it plays out much differently through its use of
humorous protagonists. Though on the surface the tanuki may look like
cuddly teddy bears, they are fierce in their war with the humans. The
animation of the transformation scenes and the action shots make this a very
appealing film and the characterization is first rate (especially the three
It may be helpful for non-japanese audiences to do a little reading on japanese folklore. I caught a lot of the references but much of it went over my head.
Isao Takahata, the man who brought us the good Only Yesterday and the
masterful Grave of the Fireflies, is at his most bizarre here. This is
essentially the same story about anthropomorphic animals being distressed
that humans are destroying their home that has been told countless times
before, but there's precious little here that will be tiresomely familiar.
The movie is overflowing with creativity, humour, and invention; and in the
end, that's probably why it's ultimately less than a masterpiece. There's so
much here that too little attention seems to have gone into tying it all
The first half is definitely the best, since the movie treads more carefully while establishing itself. The raccoons living in a forest that's scheduled to be destroyed to make way for a new Tokyo suburb unite to develop their shapeshifting powers and use them to save their home. The problem, however, is that these are not professional guerrillas or revolutionaries or anything of the sort. They are raccoons, and as such, equally concerned with partying and scavenging in the humans' trash as with getting rid of them. There's also a priceless plot point about the need to keep the population down by stopping all mating in spring -- a policy with obvious enforcement problems. The tone is kept mostly light, and things move briskly, making the movie a fun experience thus far. Particularly ingenious is how the raccoons are shown differently according to the dramatic needs of the scene/ sometimes they're drawn completely realistically, walking on four legs and with totally inexpressive faces; sometimes they're drawn like traditional bipedal cartoon characters; and other times they take on human form.
However, its two-hour running time may have been a bit much. There's no concrete point where it stops working, but somehow the second hour works less well than the first. Plot points become more and more dubious and underdeveloped. What kind of Spook War could so easily be mistaken for a parade? Why were they initially so reticent about talking to the TV reporter? Shouldn't they have tried to do something with that million dollars they stole? Also, the "turn back the clock" illusion at the climax is maybe too ambiguous for its own good. It's not that it couldn't have been effective -- Hayao Miyazaki fine-tuned it to be devastatingly effective in Princess Mononoke -- but it just seems a bit incongruous here. The very end tries to be bittersweet in its admission of defeat but continuance of hope, but with only nominal success.
Still, this one is definitely worth seeing. As with all Studio Ghibli films, it's more concerned with real emotions and issues rather than the spraying blood and female nudity of so much other anime, and the level of wit and invention is some of the highest ever. It's a textbook example of how to handle anthropomorphism of animals with a maximum realism and a minimum of sentimentality. And where else are you going to see balls used so effectively as weapons?
This movie is one of my all time favorite Studio Ghibli movies
(although I loved every single one I've seen). The way that Takahata
portrayed the raccoons as how they acted when humans weren't around was
great. It completely changed my view of raccoons.
The plot was very strong and also made you aware of modern day construction and how our forests are being destroyed. It also had great characters with many differences. There were smart ones, rough ones, calm ones, and ones that could pull through in times of hardship. Many showed compassion, and many didn't think anything through.
I also loved the human reactions to the raccoons. The raccoons made many very funny attempts to scare the humans and.. well I'll just leave it at VERY funny.
If you didn't like this movie, it may have been from the lack of understanding the portrayal of the raccoons, or because the humor isn't just your type of humor. I do believe that anyone, especially a Studio Ghibli fan (like me) would love this movie. It is great for the family, kids, or just adults.. There is definitely humor for all of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The "gimmick" of the film is the power of a skilled Tanuki (Japanese
raccoon dog) to transform itself and create illusions in utterly
amazing ways. And there so many crazy antics and throw-away jokes that
I had to watch it a few times (& keep backing up) to catch them all--
since I was relying on subtitles and couldn't read fast.
The centre-piece of the film-- a (literal) parade and demonstration through the streets of Tokyo-- is no less fascinating. This and other allusions to environmentalists and other social activists come fast and furious, but-- like the heaps of Japanese cultural/literary references the film is loaded with-- take some thinking to digest/ appreciate.
And it was only after I had managed to tear myself from the eye-candy and "work" through the subtitles that I realised this was the poignant history of the end of a era.
***Spoilers*** As stated in the title, this film is the story of a war the Tanuki-s conducted during the reign of the current emperor (the Heisei-reign). Early on in the film, the Tanukis realise that their common enemy are the humans-- who are levelling the mountains and forests to create housing estates-- and form an alliance to drive the humans away. Since this story takes place in modern times, it will be obvious to clear-headed viewers that the Tanukis eventually lost this war-- which is why this review is full of spoilers...
For such a melodramatic/sentimental story (from the Tanuki point of view) on the futile resistance of the Tanuki-s against the humans, the director Takahata took a relatively light and fast-paced approach in telling the story. This works for me because:- 1) the Tanuki-s are practical and playful creature not given to moping; 2) this story took place over the course of 3 years, and the Tanuki-s had other things to do other than fight the humans; 3) this story is told as a remembered event through the voice-overs of various Tanuki survivors; and 4) the director Takahata was never one to rely on the cheap trick of demonising the enemy, the humans.
Even as the Tanukis start to die halfway through the film, the persistent sense of fun and wonder remains to heighten the poignancy of the film. I laughed even as my heart ached in the darker moments of the film-- when an elder Tanuki dies of over-exertion in the demonstration against the human, or when many fatalistic/fanatical Tanuki-s left on a ship "bound for paradise".
And at the end, all that is left for the Tanuki-s to do is to fit in (and live like city-dwellers) as best they can, with the consolation of a bit of nostalgia/reminiscing every now and then with like-minded folk. The ending hits me like a ton of bricks because this is what I have been trying to do ever since the countryside I grew up in was changed into a housing estate.***End of Spoilers***
This is a Ghibli film by the studio's 'other', less famous, director,
Takahata, who in Japan is still best known for doing the 'Heidi' television
series in the 1970's, and who probably had his swan-song with Ghibli with
the 1999 box-office disaster 'Tonari no Yamada-kun' ('My Neighbours the
Nevertheless, I think history will judge that his 'Pom Poko' is one of Studio Ghibli's finest works: breathtakingly imaginative and looney, wry, complex, sentimental but un-dogmatic, unapologetically Japanese in its outlook and references. I would in fact rate it higher than Miyazaki's highly-regarded 'Mononoke Hime,' which takes itself a bit too seriously and becomes slightly tiresome as a result.
I was expecting a movie about stupid little raccoons that would be
boring and unoriginal. However it was far from that, it was fun,
original, exciting and moving. I'm upset by how many people think it's
bad! It's moved me more than any other movie has in a long time.
It's the story of a bunch of shape shifting raccoons, whose forest is slowly being destroyed by humans. I would normally assume that with that plot it would be a preachy, boring "WHY MUST WE HURT OUR MOTHER EARTH?!!!!" style story but it's not at all. It's from their point of view, not in a way that's overstated. No big sweeping scores or little raccoons finding a potato chip bag and shedding a tear.
Along with their magical powers of shape-shifting (which often includes using their testicles... I'm not making that up), they persevere and fight on. It's not an epic, it's not manipulative at all. It's set more or less in the real world, at least the imagined world where raccoons can talk is portrayed realistically.
This movie is hilarious, and a hell of a lot of fun. It's an excellent 'escape' movie. It's a cute fun filled world, the raccoons go through tough times but they don't sit around crying about it. It brought me back to that feeling as a child when I would watch Disney movies and feel the "magic" (which now that I'm grown up is just "escapism".) This movie isn't for critics. If you think that little raccoons playing with their balls and having fabulous adventures are stupid then you can go and re-watch 'Citizen Kane.' Don't go into watching this movie with a serious attitude or critical eye, just feel the fun. Don't be a critic and "compare it to other Ghibli films", who cares about how "GOOD" a movie is, if you don't enjoy it. It's not about how many fat middle-aged critics like it, it's about how it elicits emotion in you.
So don't view this movie as another "movie", it's about feeling like a kid again and just having a lot of fun watching these amazing raccoons.
An all around excellent film, a good antidote to a rainy day! 10/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The high production values expected of Studio Ghibli are well to the fore, and so are the studio's well-established ecological concerns and emphasis on community. Pom Poko was supposedly inspired by the construction of a new suburb in the Tama Hills, west of Tokyo. The tanuki act like a collective of eco-protesters, with the same conflicts, wasted efforts and internal squabbles. Director Isao Takahata has a broad humorous streak, demonstrated by an extended visual gag about tanuki testicles. There are many folk stories about the ludicrous uses to which tanuki put their genitals, but most directors avoid including them in family films. He also laces the story with less explicit - and less explicitly Japanese - jokes, and as a result this is a funny, charming, and very entertaining film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Isao Takahata's films all share an exceptional emotional depth, which runs even under the four-panel-gag structure of "My Neighbor the Yamadas". In "Pom Poko" the war of the tanuki against the humans seems comic and almost farcical at times, and there is also a fair helping of satire, which is probably a lot more pointed if you are steeped in Japanese film and pop culture. But the inevitable conclusion is melancholy to the point of tragedy. The tanuki struggle--and their fate--is that of traditional peoples as well as that of ecological communities, and the script makes this explicit near the end: humans, it turns out, were once tanuki. The fadeout, as befits a film for all ages, is softened; but the happiness it shows is only temporary. It's a Ghibli film, and fully up to that studio's astonishingly high standards. The animation is invigorating and beautiful, the settings acutely observed and lovingly rendered. The music and sound are first-rate, too. The structure is off-putting at first, with a great deal of narration and horseplay; but gradually the film's odd blend of goofiness and pathos takes over. One of the most admirable aspects of Takahata's career is his inability to repeat himself. Every film seems to create a new style of animation. "Pom Poko" is unlikely to have successors, but it's a fine genre all by itself.
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