A community of magical shape shifting raccoon dogs desperately struggle to prevent their forest home from being destroyed by urban development.
The list of Studio Ghibli movies I stll have yet to watch is dwindling down to a few now, Pom Poko being one of them. This movie is directed by Isao Takahata, the same director that brought My Neighbours The Yamadas (review) and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (review), both of which I watched earlier this year and absolutely loved.
Pom Poko was what I expected from a Studio Ghibli movie: fun moments depicting life and connectedness but also with strong themes of life and environmentalism. The latter is especially present as the tanuki community in this movie are struggling against the humans as urban development is destroying their homes, displacing the existing wildlife and ecosystem and forcing them to adapt in ways they would not consider previously. Within this conflict are further thematic struggles as groups of tanuki have different ways of addressing the issues: there are tanuki like Shokichi who want to understand the humans and get them to realise what they’re doing is wrong, get them to back off their land without hurting them, but then you have tanuki like Gonta who believe there’s no way they can win except through battle. Both sides make compelling arguments especially as time is running out for their community and food becomes scarce to provide for their families, and the viewer can understand their confusion and frustration on how to proceed.
Despite of the seriousness of the issue before them, there’s a lot of fun moments. The tanuki are playful, they know when to relax, and the certainly know when and how to party. Every time there’s even the smallest of victories, they’d break out into song and dance, derailing whatever other plans they had for the day, haha. They crack me up how they transform even when they party, sometimes their partying breaking through to the next day. There are also funny moments as they practise their transformations and scare humans in the process of getting them off the New Tama development plans.
There are however also some serious and dark moments, especially towards the end, which I was not expecting, showing the realism of their situation.
I feel the movie is a bit different from other Studio Ghibli titles in that there is a narrator present throughout the film. It was a little odd to get used to at first, especially as there were a few narrators at the start, but in the end was streamlined to one narrator to represent the tanuki’s voice.
Overall, Pom Poko was an interesting watch. It was intriguing, it was funny, it was thoughtful, but it was also sad. Japanese folklore was abound in this movie, which was also really fascinating. Definitely worth checking out and thinking about.