Animated Movies, Reviews, Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli Countdown: Pom Poko

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The other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about why he doesn’t get into anime. He said something to the effect that there is a cultural divide, and he feels like he doesn’t understand what’s going on in most anime. There are definitely Studio Ghibli films which I think bridge that cultural divide such as My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service; however, Pom Poko is not one of them. While I like the film, it is more for hard core anime fans and those steeped in Japanese culture.

Pom Poko is directed by Isao Takahata but it feels more like a Miyazaki film. Every other Takahata film I’ve seen has felt more grounded and earthy where this is full of magic and woodland creatures. To be more specific it is about a bunch of tanuki or Japanese racoons.

Tanuki is a part of a Japanese folklore tradition where raccoons are social and silly, and have the power to transform into anything from cookware to human beings. At the start of the film the tribe’s home is being encroached upon by human development. This initially leads them into conflict with each other over food but eventually they decide to gather together against the humans. In order to do so, they must learn how to use their powers more effectively and we get a lot of training montages.

Eventually they stage a ‘ghost parade’ to scare away the humans and it doesn’t go quite like they had hoped, causing division among the tanuki. The animation of the ‘ghost parade’ is one of the highlights of the film.

There is a lot of humor in Pom Poko that should entertain kids. On the other hand, adults should enjoy the beautiful animation and the interesting tribal dynamics and positive message. The group of tanuki is constantly meshing and morphing with alliances and leaders that have different philosophies to guide them.

However, there are aspects of Pom Poko that will be challenging for some to accept. Some might find it a little heavy handed and preachy but there are also cultural aspects that are different than a typical western narrative. The biggest example is how the male tanuki use their male anatomy to transform into mats, bouncy balls and even parachutes. This is frankly too weird for many western audiences, but I enjoyed seeing something different and learning about another culture. It just depends on how open a person is to something so strange.

I do also think that Pom Poko wears out its welcome a little bit and is too long. It shouldn’t nearly be two hours long and sections feel repetitive and drawn out. The English dub features Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Clancy Brown, JK Simmons, Tress MacNeille and Kevin Michael Richardson. It didn’t mesh with the mouths as well as other Disney-led dubs but it was fine.

Overall, if you are looking for something different and unique then check out Pom Poko. It never takes itself too seriously and the animation alone is worth a watch.

Have you seen Pom Poko? What are your thoughts?

Edited by: MJ Edwards

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel has loved animation since she was a little girl singing songs from The Little Mermaid at the top of her lungs. She currently works in social media marketing and loves to blog and vlog about Disney, Pixar and all kinds of movies in her free time. Her favorite movie is Up and she considers herself quite the Cinderella aficionado seeing every version she can get her hands on. She also loves animated TV shows like Simpsons, Gravity Falls, Star Wars Rebels and more. Follow her on twitter @smilingldsgirl
  • I’ve heard of this one and heard some really fun things about it, maybe one day will check it from what I see from this great article! 😉

    • Rachel Wagner

      Thanks Haley!

  • Jordan Briskin

    I’ve seen this one a few times, and due to its environmental message, it ranks among my favorite Studio Ghibli films.

    However, I would like to clarify something: You (and the film itself) describe the central characters as “Japanese raccoons”; they are actually Japanese raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus)- they look similar to their namesake, but they’re a completely different species

    • Rachel Wagner

      Thanks for that clarification

      • Jordan Briskin

        No trouble.

  • Bob Ross

    More cartoon animals need genitals.

  • I love this movie, I think the story is amazing. The first time I saw it I found it depressing but now I find it motivating to inspire a respect for nature in others. I don’t find it preachy because the message is based in truth and you can see why the characters care so much about their home. I also like the slow pace because you really feel how much time passes and how frustrated they are with their efforts. They also point out that the humans aren’t evil but mostly ignorant and just out of control with their population and money dependency. They just kind of forgot the beauty of how things used to be.

    The anatomical part is strange and definitely makes it difficult to share with westerners, unfortunately. But it’s just drawings and it’s not like people don’t see naked animals in real life. It’s just a different culture, and this movie also feels like it’s trying to preserve and showcase old culture & folktales when the world is moving on and might forget. Also while I usually prefer subs, I like the dub on this one.