(Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko)
On the face of it, Pom Poko might seem to have nominal similarities to the Disney talking animals fantasy or the likes of tvs The Care Bears (1985-8). However, Isao Takahata approaches the story with a frequently side-splitting sense of humour and (occasionally) a pathos that is light years away from any of these. The film is filled with so many scenes that are hysterically funny the depictions of the raccoons attempts at transformation and to blend into human society and especially the montage scenes with them scaring the humans that they are difficult to list. Takahatas sense of humour frequently spills over into the bawdy there are some very funny gags about the raccoons and their testicles that are capable of transforming into everything from carpets to parachutes. (Indeed, the testicle humour in a film ostensibly for childrens audiences ended up having the film criticised by parental groups upon its screenings in the US and left Disney, who bought up the rights to all the Studio Ghibli films, scratching their heads as to how to release the film). Surprisingly the tanuki (and much of the mythology concerning their abilities, including their legendary testicles) are creatuers that feature in Japanese folklore.
The film also has a serious side to it. Indeed, while the first half of the film is overtly comedic, the second half becomes serious and resembles much more the contemplative fantasy of a Hayao Miyazaki film. Underlying it are many of the same environmentalist concerns that fuel Miyazakis films (and much of Japanese fantasy cinema) the themes of the encroachment of human civilisation onto the natural woodland homeof intelligent forest creatures has many similarities to Princess Mononoke. The film goes out with a particularly sad ending with the tanuki choosing to depart aboard a boat to the afterlife with those left behind absorbed indistinguishably into the human world and a final haunting scene with one of the human-transformed tanuki finding his remaining comrades and joining them to play one more time.
On the minus side, at 112 minutes, just under two hours, Pom Poko is probably overlong. Some of the scenes in the latter half with the tanuki haunting the humans, even the ghost festival, and the cuts away to romantic romps could have been taken out to the films advantage. That said, it remains a perfect delight.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 1994 list).
Japanese trailer here (no subs):-