“Pom Poko” stars Makoto Nonomura, Shigeru Izumiya, Nijiko Kiyokawa, and Kosan Yanagiya. Released on July 16, 1994, the film is about a group of tanuki who attempts to prevent a suburban development project from destroying their home.
The film is directed by Isao Takahata, who also directed films such as “Grave of the Fireflies”, “Only Yesterday”, and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”. Since last year, I revisited most of the beloved animated classics from Studio Ghibli on the big screen. However, there were only a few of them that I haven’t seen yet, mostly because of time and money, and “Pom Poko” is one of them. That’s right, this will be my very first experience with this film, and with good reason. Back in April, the film’s director, Isao Takahata, tragically passed away due to lung cancer, which was seen as a heavy loss for anime fans because he played one of the important roles in Studio Ghibli’s success, most notably his work on “Grave of the Fireflies”. So I figured I would talk about one of his directorial efforts from the popular animation studio in order to pay respect to his remarkable talent, starting with the one that I haven’t experienced before until now. Like most of my classic Studio Ghibli reviews, I will be looking at the English dub version of the film, which featured the voices of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Clancy Brown, Tress Macneille, Andre Stojka, J. K. Simmons, and David Oliver Cohen.
Narrated by Maurice LaMarche, the film transports the viewers into a world where a group of magical Japanese raccoon dogs (aka, the “tanuki”) develop a series of solutions to save their wildlife home from the humans. I’ve seen plenty of Studio Ghibli films that have bizarre concepts, but based on what I saw, this has to be the most surreal experience that I have ever witnessed. It’s definitely weird when it comes to the film’s plot, but it had a certain charm to it that made the experience compelling and interesting. While not as outstanding as the likes of “Spirited Away” or “My Neighbor Totoro”, the story had plenty of moments that’ll enchant both kids and adults alike. Not only did the story provide some environmental themes that were relatable, well-executed, and, more importantly, less corny compared to the other films with similar messages, but it wasn’t afraid to show off the consequences to some of the tanuki’s ideas, including the ones that may come off as disturbing for younger kids. One of the reasons for the story’s imperfection would have to be the plot element that involves a romance between one of the main characters, Shokichi (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), and his love interest. It just comes off as filler with no given depth to these characters whatsoever. Another reason was that there were a couple of scenes that may feel a bit overlong for some people despite its two-hour runtime. The animation played a big part in the film. Not just because of the film’s style, but also because of the designs of the tanuki and their transformation abilities. There was a big amount of creativity that the animators came up with to showcase the tanuki and their wacky powers, and it was displayed beautifully on-screen. The music in the film was provided by a Japanese band known as Shang Shang Typhoon, and it fits very well with the film’s zany tone, especially during the scenes that involve the tanuki.
Overall, despite a couple of issues with the film’s story, “Pom Poko” remarkably expresses its weirdness in a positive light. With its well-executed plot, great animation, and a quirky score from Shang Shang Typhoon, this is the type of experience that’s both odd and clever. It may not be a perfect masterpiece from Studio Ghibli, but as its own, it’s a worthy directorial effort from the late Isao Takahata. He will be missed. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth your time.