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 is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net