Twitter Plot Summary: A group of shape-changing raccoons fight to protect their home from being destroyed by humans.
Director: Isao Takahata
Key Cast: Clancy Brown, Olivia D’Abo, John DiMaggio, Brian George, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, JK Simmons
Five Point Summary:
1. As if shape changing raccoons wasn’t bad enough, you can also see their private parts…
2. So… some of them can change shape, some can’t… I think I’m getting my head around it now.
3. In human form, the raccoons often look tired. So very tired.
4. Are they using their privates as giant bean bag things and attacking humans with them? Oh Grud, they are…
5. Breaking the fourth wall should be banned!
To the layman, entering any Studio Ghibli film for the first time has the potential to confuse and bemuse. Take Pom Poko, for example. Hidden within the reality of our world, Pom Poko is the tale of tribes of shape-shifting raccoons who are rapidly losing territory due to ongoing human development and urbanisation. Not only do the raccoons have to stop their in-fighting and overcome their animal instincts, but they must also come up with a plan to prevent human expansion that doesn’t involve killing off all the humans – because humans know how to make tempura and raccoons are partial to a lot of human-produced food. All of this is based on old Japanese fairy tales, so suffice to say with all of this taken into account it’s not a film that will have as broad an appeal as My Neighbour Totoro or even Spirited Away, it’s far too Japanese-centric for most. If you’ve seen anything else by Studio Ghibli then please at least give it a try. Whilst most of the culture-specific references may be lost on you, there is still a very strong story for you to enjoy.
As is typical with Studio Ghibli there is a strong eco message at its core. Takahata is rallying against the expansion of humans and the destruction of the natural world. Whilst it is a family friendly film, it doesn’t shy away from showing death and highlighting the impact we have on the natural world. At one point a character even talks directly to the audience and advises us to be aware of our place in the world and to take more care of what we have. Not so much a subtle undertone but a full-on fish slap to the face. Monty Python style.
So, with this message running throughout we get into the story, however what is slightly different to their usual output is the almost excessive use of a narrator to tell the tale. It’s possible that the narrative was already too dense for the majority of audiences, so if we didn’t have the narrator the film could easily have been twice as long. As it stands, most of the plot is explained via narration which in a way helps to focus on the characters and the struggles they are facing. I would have preferred them to adhere to the old “show don’t tell” maxim, but it’s a minor complaint when taking into consideration the other strengths the film demonstrates. The characters are mostly well drawn (ahh, animation puns!) although the English dub does again suffer from “anime voice” syndrome. Clancy Brown in particular is a big offender, which is a shame as he’s usually very good.
For imagery alone Pom Poko is an excellent addition to the Ghibli stable, covering everything from an anthropomorphic tribe of raccoons to the various traditional Japanese spirits they imitate. This is the closest Ghibli get to properly tripping out like the majority of Japanese animated features seem to do, but unlike the majority of those features in this instance it serves the story. It’s really fantastic stuff.
Favourite scene: The raccoons hit the local town with an array of spirit images. Two guys sit drinking at a bar discussing ghosts whilst all manner of weird stuff takes place behind them.
Quote: “I have no face!”
Silly Moment: The fox in human form shaking an abacus at one of the raccoons. Sorry, what was going on there?