Home Channels Anime Review: “Pom Poko” Blu-ray – The Tanuki are Restless

Review: “Pom Poko” Blu-ray – The Tanuki are Restless

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Pom Poko

Pom Poko Blu-ray Box ArtI need to clear up one thing before we get too deep into things. Tanuki are not raccoons. They’re a type of dog that lives in Japan and looks kind of like a raccoon, but they are in no way related to North American raccoons, despite Disney’s insistence on calling them raccoons in the dub and the subtitles of Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko. Pom Poko is a very very VERY Japanese movie. For North American audiences, that can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how much one is willing to try and puzzle out some of the more out-there elements of the story.

Pom Poko is set in the early 1990’s, when Japan’s economy was mandating that new land be opened for development around Tokyo. In particular the Tama Hills area, already the site of a major development that cut apart the lands the tanuki call home, is getting developed even more. Understandably, this makes the tanuki very unhappy. Would you want someone coming in and bulldozing your house? But what can you do against a bunch of humans with machines when you’re just a bunch of dogs? Well, what if you could look like a human if you wanted to?

Japan is a land with a lot of mythical creatures and creatures with myths surrounding them. The tanuki are rumored to be shape-shifters. The person right next to you right now could be a tanuki, if we were in Japan. They can transform to foxes. Pretty much anything could be a tanuki, if the tanuki were well trained enough. Not all of the tanuki can transform though, so the more desperate things become, the more pressure there is on those who can transform to try and save what little the tanuki have left.

Pom PokoTo be honest the actual characters of Pom Poko are not especially memorable, though not because they’re bad characters. Fiery village leaders Gonta and Oroku stick out well enough, but there are so many characters fighting for screen time that no one really pops out too much. The village seeks out transformation masters  to help them, and these masters make a good impression to with a fairly limited amount of screen time. There’s also a younger tanuki named Shoukichi who I suppose could be called the “main character,” but he tends a bit more toward plot device that full character. Normally that would be a major problem, but the plot and the visuals in particular are strong enough to more than make up for the weak character development. And boy oh boy are the visuals incredible.

As a Studio Ghibli film, one would expect that Pom Poko‘s animation would be amazing, and it does not disappoint. Be it ultra-serious or ultra-silly, the animation is never less than top notch. There’s a monster parade in the sky in the middle of the film that is magnificent. If you don’t know anything about the various myths being acted out, it is simply stunning. If you do know something about the myths, it takes things to another level still. Other highlights include several large battle scenes and an attack on the construction site.

Pom Poko High Tension Wire TowerOf course the first name anyone thinks of when they think of Studio Ghibli is Hayao Miyazaki, and rightly so. But Pom Poko is not one of his films. The director and creative force behind Pom Poko is Isao Takahata, one of Miyazaki’s cohorts since the early days Studio Ghibli. Takahata doesn’t quite bring the same sense of whimsy and wonder to Pom Poko that Miyazaki does to the best of his films, but Takahata more than makes up for that with the aforementioned animation and a really engaging plot.
It’s also a surprisingly sad plot for all of the cartoonish funny bits. There’s a lot of death in Pom Poko. The tanuki themselves kill several humans in the construction sites early on and a number of the tanuki end up dying by the end of the film. There’s also a general sense of loss hanging over the film, as the way of life the tanuki have known for thousands of years is dying. If you want to take the jump on this movie, be warned that really sensitive kids might have some problems with it. The plot also has a fairly heavy environmentalist bent to it, but anyone who has watched more than one Studio Ghibli film should be able to guess that.

There are a few bits of cartoonish nudity here and there and a fairly heavy emphasis on jokes involving the tanuki’s…errr…balls. Like I said, it’s not a typical North American film in a lot of ways. Vocal performances are uniformly strong across the board both in the Japanese and English tracks and the film itself looks amazing on Blu-ray. There are no new extras over the previous DVD release though: just the film in story board form and a bunch of trailers. Pom Poko may be a bit of an acquired taste, but the journey is worth the effort.