Studio Ghibli has created many fantastic films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Castle In The Sky, and Princess Mononoke but none of them are as bizarre on a concept level as Pom Poko. Where else do you find a film about Tanukis trying to protect a forest using their, um, enchanted sacks.
A group of Tanukis find their ancestral home threatened by a new development project. Using their illusion magic, they try to thwart the humans from building and try to maintain their way of life along the way.
Pom Poko, a film by the recently deceased director Isao Takahata is probably one of the weirdest films to come out of Studio Ghibli. Weird not simply for the fantastical elements employed or the tone of the film. Instead the issues which are addressed and how they touched upon which come off as odd. The film addresses he importance of preservation of the environment. This isn’t a new concept for the studio as environmental issues were discussed in both Castle in the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro.
The angle presented in Pom Poko seems to show the a group on the losing side of the fight. The Tanuki struggle to find a way to preserve the forest and their home but all of their efforts seem futile and worthless. Near the end of the film, the Tanuki have no choice but to make changes in their way of life. Unfortunately, this deep message is buried under the characters doing funny transformation, having festivals, and using their “raccoon pouches.” The deep meaning of the film only comes from looking back at the message the film was trying to illicite.
This doesn’t make the film necessarily bad. It just makes it different. Pom Poko is a film, which despite its fantastic elements and comedy has grounding in realism. The concept of realism is what set Takahata apart from the other directors at Ghibli. The majority of the films he created had a level of realism to them even when still seemed to have a high dosage of fantasy elements. This isn’t obvious as first a while watching the film it’s easy to get blindsided by the bizarre use of the tanuki’s “raccoon pouches.”
Instead there is much more which needs to be approached by looking under the surface of what the film has to offer. As the Tanuki’s work to fight against the urban development project to preserve their way of life is presented as comical experience but disastrous consequences come from taking up this fight. It is the type of film which leaves you with much to think about when it is over. You’ll find yourself wondering if you there isn’t more which can be done to help the Tanukis and their way of life. It’s a powerful film and one which takes a few viewings to appreciate the true message it is trying to convey.
The animation also makes it more of a distinct film but in a different way when compared to other Studio Ghibli films. There is much more use of browns and earth tones. Manly because the Tanuki’s themselves come in these color palettes. There is also a large use of fluid animation with the transformation sequences which helps to make the movie feel fresh. Unfortunately the lack of as many sprawling animation scenes does make it pale in comparison to films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away. It’s good just not the best the studio has ever made.
The soundtrack feels more down to earth compared to a standard Studio Ghibli creation. There isn’t as as much sweeping orchestral. Instead more simple pianos and loud flutes appear in the soundtrack. It almost feels like the composer was trying to give folksy country feel to the music to help tell the comfortable way of life the Tanukis enjoy.
Pom Poko is a different pill to swallow. Again not difficult just different. Though it is ripe with comedy and bizarre imagery, the film itself has very heavy elements under the surface which will stick with you afterward. It’s a film which will have you contemplating what can be done to help nature and to help the creatures who call the forest their home.
Pom Poko was presented in select locations through Fathom Events.