Thursday, February 6, 2014

Movie Review #5: Pom Poko

Even before I started these movie nights, I had started slowly working through the Studio Ghibli from start to finish. Pom Poko just happened to be the next one on the list.

All I knew going in was that it involved tanukis, and these tanukis had prominent balls, which likely contributed to the fact that the movie wasn't widely released in America.


The movie follows the efforts of a group on tanukis living on the outskirts of Tokyo, where urban development efforts have begin to destroy the tanukis' habitat.  The tanukis attempt to fight back without revealing themselves or their illusionary powers, but the humans are difficult to deter.

Spoilerless review: The movie feels longer than it is due to some slow pacing, which impressive because the movie's already two hours long. Still, the movie is very beautiful, and the tanukis are fun to watch. The movie is worth watching, but the I would recommend dividing it into two ~1-hour sittings so that the movie's length doesn't detract from the experience.


As far as I can tell, the movie is an allegory for the westernization of Japan hidden behind a more overt message about deforestation using the antics of cute animals.

The movie begins by setting the scene of a good time for the tanukis, when they lived in abandoned farms and had plenty of food to eat. Then, the tanukis realized that their forests were being demolished, and they began to try and frighten the invading humans away, at first through small tactics, then getting more and more desperate as it becomes more obvious that they're losing the war. Finally, some tanukis attack the humans head-on in a kamikaze attack, while others attempt to open a dialogue with the humans and, in the end, those who can have no choice but to integrate into human society, using their illusions to appear as humans.

My understanding of Japanese history is hazy and unreliable, colored as it is through the lens of American historians, but I suspect that many of the things the tanukis did in Pom Poko reflect how the Japanese people responded to Western influences: fear, rejection, violence, communication, and eventually surrender. Are the Japanese people better off since their country was radically altered by the US occupation after WWII? There's no telling, but likewise there's no doubt that the country changed dramatically between the early 40s and the late 60s.

But enough about my theory on the underlying message.

The funnest parts of the movie are when you get to watch the tanukis actually buckle down and do stuff: relearning the art of illusion, playing tricks on the humans, traveling to distant lands for assistance, etc.

The frustrating part, and the reason the tanukis spend two hours accomplishing nothing, is their laziness: they party after every minor victory, then sit around until they find out that their efforts weren't successful, again and again until the end. The movie spans years, and it's tough to watch so little happen during that time, due not to powerlessness but laziness.


The visuals are lovely, the music and sound is good--it's Studio Ghibli. There was never any concern there. The slow pacing, however, may put you to sleep if you're not careful.

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