Pom Poko (Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko) (1994)

sg.pp“Pom Poko” is an utterly original and incredibly odd animated film that’s really not just a fantasy fable, but more of a commentary on society. The raccoons here are more or less their own worst enemies and they can’t even realize it. Rather than focusing on preserving their land, keeping their family from over-populating, and remembering their priorities they’re more concerned with eating, sleeping, and once they grab a hold of a television, they’re more concerned with what’s on than with what’s going on.

These raccoons are so engrossed in war, they don’t realize they’re losing their home. But by then, it may already be too late. The Raccoons here decide to band together and realize that all their practice may be in vain as the human society is plowing forests and beginning new developments. “Pom Poko” is yet another commentary on environment and the importance of nature and life by Japanese filmmaker Isao Takahata who, in the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki attempts to convey more than a story through his art. You really have to give it to the  Japanese filmmakers whom have not only a fascination with magic and fantasy but really have a tender love for nature and environment and with very subtle symbolism, convey that to their audience.

Pom Poko’s character base is centered around these raccoon tribes whom have been domesticated, which ends up not only as a commentary on society, but, again, a commentary on Asian society. The elders are wise and powerful and know everything, however they can’t get their younger descendants to focus on their objective and stop eating. The raccoons have about five forms. First as puffy raccoons among one another, then cartoon raccoons whenever beaten unconscious, then normal realistic raccoons among human society and then as human beings which they use to camouflage in to society and corrupt it. You get a better sense of the characters, as the narrative is switched back and forth throughout the film.

We constantly jump back and forth between different characters whom all tell the audience their journey of learning their skills again and always meander to different goals, except for the character Gonta who is so focused on eliminating the humans he can’t see that his focus is ruining his goal altogether. There’s an underlying sadness underneath the comedy because you’re sure they won’t win, nor will they accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish because these raccoons don’t even realize, they’re their own worst enemies, and they’re self-defeating because they have no idea what it is they want to accomplish in the long run. I love how, much like “Lord of the Rings”, humans are the enemies and obstacles and often times they’re more the silent menace as in “Bambi”. There’s no true antagonist among this film, only the raccoons whom continue to implode among one another.

“Pom Poko” though, is very creative with some very funny plot elements such as the  raccoons turning human, attributing the creation of energy drinks entirely to transforming raccoons (Hilarious), and explaining that the dark circles under humans’ eyes are raccoons in disguise.  One caveat while watching “Pom Poko” is that it’s pretty damn repetitive. Granted, there wasn’t a whole lot to do with the story, but there could have been much more had Takahata extended the tale beyond this clan. They eat, fight, talk, practice, eat, fight, talk, and practice, and then they torture humans, party, torture humans, party, and then there’s the climactic last display of power from them while amazing, was underwhelming because it isn’t pulled off with enough build-up to keep the audience watching.

It was sad how the one thing they were focused on the entire time wasn’t as incredible as it could have or should have been in the long run. Takahata’s film is fun and very funny, and there’s some great voice work from Brian Posehn, Clancy Brown, Johnathan Taylor Thomas, and Tress MacNeille whom all give some rousing performances. “Pom Poko” is a fun little fable and Takahata scores again for Ghibli. Despite being repetitive and underwhelming with a climax that’s really not as good as the build-up would have you thinking, “Pom Poko” is a fun, funny and sad commentary on society, Asian society, and the environment with original art, and great voicework. Isao Takahata scores yet again.