Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko [Pom Poko] (1994)

In Japan, there’s a creature called the tanuki. (According to Wikipedia, there seems to be some variation on what a tanuki is, but the English translation has them incorrectly as raccoons.) The movie starts out in the 1960’s with the tanukis’ habitat slowly being taken over by development. They know that they have to band together to prevent this, but tanuki are basically lazy and playful. Life is just one big party for them.

Once food starts becoming scarce, they know that they have to get their act together and do something. The decide to declare all-out war on humans. Everything they try backfires. The problem stems from the fact that their only real skill is shape shifting. They’re able to scare off construction workers, but it isn’t long before new workers are found and the new workers aren’t as easily scared.

They manage to get help from a far-away colony of tanuki, but even this doesn’t help. They stage a parade that makes a lot of people fearful enough to shut down the construction, but this is undone by the owner of a local theme park that takes credit for it, saying that it’s a publicity stunt. This puts them in a real bind. Tanuki are dying and those that are still around end up in various factions, each having different ideas on how to handle the problem.

In the end, I felt that the movie was too long, even though it ran about two hours. I can’t find any particular point that the movie should have ended or any parts that could have been cut out, but there were several points where I found myself wondering how much of the movie was left. I could have seen the movie being split up into a miniseries or a TV show.

I’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films. Usually, I can be pretty certain that I’ll like anything with the Studio Ghibli name on it. Pom Poko has been the only one that made me step back and think. The primary reason is that the male tanuki have very obvious testicles, which are translated as ‘pouches’, and the females have breasts. This caught me off guard and may cause parents to question whether or not their children should be watching this. (The male tanuki use there are able to morph their testicles into various things like parachutes.) At first, I was wondering if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. In retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal. Overall, it didn’t play a major part, but is probably responsible for the PG rating.

It’s hard to let that overshadow the fact that it was still a good movie with a great message. This is a problem going on around the world. The movie shows how animals need their habitat and are often forced to live in a human world. The tanuki are forced to do something while humans basically ignore them. I would recommend this movie, but would advise you to watch it before letting your kids see it. Even though the movie was directed by Isao Takahata, don’t expect a movie like Grave of the Fireflies.

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