Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Pom Poko

Pom Poko, released July 16th, 1994, is a story of how a hoard of Tanuki (raccoon-dogs), threatened by development, fight humans to defend their ancestral home. using their transformation abilities (which, according to legend, they possess along with foxes and a select few cats), they stage various attacks against humans to try to slow and halt the destruction of their forests. eventually, they enlist the help of Tanuki from elsewhere to strengthen their efforts.
Because when your home is threatened, it's everyone's problem.
though they have lived peacefully for hundreds of years, in the mid-Showa period (1960's), a group of Tanuki are threatened as urban sprawl outside Tokyo threatens to take their home in the Tama Hills away. desperate to survive, the Tanuki begin vigorous training in the art of transformation. Shoukichi, a young Tanuki in the group, acts as the main character as he tries to keep the peace between the members of the group while also trying to protect his family and his tribe. while Shoukichi is a "main" character of sorts, the large group makes it a bit hard to focus on just one, which sort of works in the movie's favour. it gives a sense of unity and desperation, a sort of "it's us against them" mentality that adds drama to this otherwise comedic venture.
In addition to transforming, the Tanuki also have other powers of illusion, such as making ghosts appear or creating elements to work with, such as the gusts of wind here.
I had never seen Pom Poko before, and neither had the people i watched it with, so this was very interesting to see. we laughed hysterically and marveled at how odd some things among the Tanuki became. we were sad at the sad times, but mostly we just laughed and remarked over the weirdness present throughout the film (especially commenting on the "pouches" the male Tanuki possessed and transformed into some very fantastical things). despite the sad message, the movie was very lighthearted for the most part and kept us rolling with laughter with each line.
That's a ball sack they're riding on. I shit you not.
The visuals were simple but pretty, and mostly centred around the same areas (most action took place in the woods). since they were all animals, however, this was to be expected. what caught me off-guard was the various forms the Tanuki were depicted in. this stands as the only Ghibli movie with a photorealistic representation of anything, and while I understand the idea they were trying to convey, the super-real Tanuki freaked me out a little. equally weird was the super-cartoony times, which didn't come around nearly as often but still left an odd taste in my mouth. both of these accented the movie, so they were by no means out of place, but it was an interesting stylistic choice on Ghibli and Takahata's part.
The realism isn't always bad.
The dub's choice of voice actors were lovely, and suited each character well (despite the English's misuse of the word "Raccoon" rather than the more correct "Raccoon-Dog"). the soundtrack also made use of a lot of traditional instruments, leaving a sound that is distinctly Japanese. it sort of gives off a feeling of clinging to the old ways as the world around changes. this accents the movie further, giving rise to the desperate and nostalgic feel of the Tanukis' plight. the epilogue uses some piano as well as traditional flutes, leaving us with a well-rounded feeling of conclusion.
It has a cozier ending than you might think.
Overall, Pom Poko quickly rose to one of my favourite Ghibli films, and that sort of says a lot, given that they have 22 movies under their belt (of which I have seen 17). it was well-rounded, dramatic, and yet fun and light, without much to offend. for this reason, it is a great movie to show to someone of any age (though some might object to the usage of Tanuki balls). it is available from Disney in North America, and despite the english track, i can't find any other distributors out there. not that that matters, a google search will find you a torrent rather quickly.

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