A tad long and sometimes incoherent in its thematic direction, but this eco-tale of shape-shifting raccoons could be Takahata’s most creative and fantastical effort.
Dir. Isao Takahata
1994 | Japan | Animation / Comedy / Drama | 119 mins | 1.85: 1 | Japanese
G (passed clean) for violence, scary images and thematic elements
Cast: Shincho Kokontei, Makoto Nonomura, Yuriko Ishida
Plot: A community of magical shape-shifting raccoon dogs struggle to prevent their forest home from being destroyed by urban development.
Awards: Won Grand Prize – Best Animated Feature Film (Annecy)
Distributor: Studio Ghibli
Subject Matter: Moderate – Ecosystem, Mythology, Urban Development
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Mainstream
After two straight-up masterpieces in Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and Only Yesterday (1991), Isao Takahata’s follow-up, Pom Poko, is a bit of a letdown. It may be one of Studio Ghibli’s weirdest efforts but it is arguably Takahata’s most creative and fantastical work.
A chaotic mix of everything from supernaturalism, mythology, animal movie and children’s movie, Pom Poko is about a community of weird-ass talking raccoons who can shape-shift into any matter when they mentally will themselves to be.
As they prepare to mount a series of violent offensives against humans for destroying their natural land for a built environment, we are treated to quite a visual feast of these sometimes cute, sometimes vicious little animals shape-shifting into human beings and objects.
“They used their balls as weapons in a brave kamikaze attack.”
In the film’s most outlandish sequence, they shape-shift into an assortment of scary creatures to haunt those who walk on two feet—it’s a phantasmagorical visual delight that sees Takahata at the height of his creative powers, somewhat prefiguring what Satoshi Kon would attempt even more astonishingly in Paprika (2006).
At two hours, Pom Poko is a tad long and may feel repetitive after a while (Takahata’s later The Tale of the Princess Kaguya also suffers a bit from this issue), not to mention its thematic direction is occasionally incoherent.
Although it is meant to be an eco-tale commenting on how we must try to preserve our natural habitats and curb our urban development desires, Pom Poko foregrounds it only when convenient; at other times, the animation tries to build a case for the peaceful co-existence of the two different species.
The extra-diegetic expositional narration can feel monotonous, and the finale’s appeal to nostalgia and memory may feel tacky, but overall Pom Poko should do enough to satisfy fans curious about what an oddity the film is.