Pom Poko / Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko
Review By: John Fragglepuss Evans
Genre: Adventure, Supernatural, Raccoon Dogs, Tanuki, Studio Ghibli
First Released: June 1994, 111 minute film
Summary: Japan’s prosperity in the early 1960s is causing suburban expansion into the forest. Faced with the destruction of their habitat due to the growth of Tokyo, a group of tanuki (raccoon dogs) decide they must stop the expansion to prevent their home from being enveloped by the humans. They decide to develop their transforming talents in an attempt to hold back the development of New Tama. When they put their mind to it and band together, the tanuki are able to disrupt construction sites by causing accidents and haunting the sites. However, the tanuki are highly sociable creatures, which results in them throwing constant parties and losing focus of the goal at hand. The other problem is how the humans are very persistent, forcing the tanuki to use more and more extreme measures to save their home.
Pom Poko is directed by Isao Takahata, the director of Grave of the Fireflies. The film’s message on environmentalism is prominent, with a result that is depressing because of how real it is. Takahata seems to have a way of ending films in that realistic, yet depressing, manner (See Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguya).
The music in Pom Poko is unique in the amount of songs the tanuki sing. They are always singing, whether in celebration or in mourning. This seems consistent with the Japanese folklore of tanuki, which depicts them as sociable and mischievous, while being too fun-loving to be a real threat. The film is worth watching in Japanese to be able to listen to the songs in their original language. It just seems like there is always a disconnect in translating song lyrics, regardless of the film.
Even though the only characters you get to know are tanuki, the film does a wonderful job of making them unique and interesting. There are times they all look like plain raccoons, but for most of the film they have their own appearance and personality.
Since Pom Poko is a Studio Ghibli film, it is worth mentioning the English dub of the film. Poko differs from some of the more popular Ghibli films with the actors used for the dub. For instance, Howl’s Moving Castle uses actors like Christian Bale and Billy Crystal in its dub, while Pom Poko uses prominent voice actors like Maurice LaMarche, Tress Macneille, Jess Harnell, and John DiMaggio. If you are unfamiliar with the work of these voice actors, look them up and I can almost guarantee you have heard them in all sorts of shows. One example is how Maurice LaMarche is the Brain from Pinky & the Brain. He narrates the film, so just imagine the Brain narrating a film about tanuki. It’s pretty great. As an extra nugget of information, Jonathan Taylor Thomas provides the voice for Shoukichi.
You might enjoy this if: You want to learn more about tanuki folklore while being reminded about the negative impact humans have on the environment. Also, be warned that Pom Poko is different than some of the more popular Ghibli films, like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. I really enjoyed the film and its message, but it focuses more on folklore, rather than the typical Ghibli fantasy.
You might not like it if: You demand humans play the main characters in a film.
Note to the Viewer: In the English sub and dub, the tanuki are incorrectly referred to as just “raccoons”. The correct translation for tanuki is “raccoon dog”. Another note, as testicles are an integral part of tanuki folklore, they are referenced throughout the film.
Pom Poko Official Trailer