[Originally posted May 21, 2006]
While I really don’t intend to make these pages a collection of animated film reviews, nonetheless animation is one of the important elements of the furry arts. Those of you who read my Livejournal pages regularly know that I’ve had a longstanding problem appreciating Japanese anime. Thinking perhaps that my problem was with Hayao Miyazaki specifically, or with stories that revolve around human characters, I made a point of watching Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko (1994) this week.
I will concede that it had a comprehensible plot, characters with believable motivations, and some interesting moments. However, even though I am entirely on the side of the tanuki (actually a kind of badger, not a raccoon as they are made out to be in the dubbed dialog) in their effort to save some of their forest home from the bulldozer of subdivisions and multiple dwellings for humans, the film just seemed to drag on and on with very little resolution or movement toward a conclusion. Two hours isn’t really that long for a film these days, though it is quite long for animation and in the case of this film, to me it seemed interminable. The characters are caught in a very real and desperate situation, one that could mean extinction for the whole of their tribe, yet they choose to defer to outside experts for a resolution and take weeks or months to bring those experts in from another island. Meanwhile, their homelands continue to be eaten away by the developers, and taken over by hordes of humans.
Once the experts in transformation arrive, these three “wise” elders attempt various solutions involving disguise, deceit, or subterfuge. None succeeds, and the credit for much of their effort is usurped by others. The badgers (or raccoons if you prefer) try to get humans to recognize their existence and needs, but without success. To my Western way of thinking, the ultimate conclusion is neither a happy one nor at all hopeful. It probably does, however, speak a frequent Asian viewpoint: “Blend in, conform, do not stand out, and all will be well.”
Individual characters were entertaining enough, and many individual scenese were fun. Taken as a whole, however, I found the film draggy and depressing. Should you see it? (If you haven’t already done so, that is?) Yes, I think it’s a must for the furry fan. The film is definitely furry, filled with anthropomorphic badgers who can change between quad and biped forms, as well as sly foxes with the same ability. It is definitely anime, for the anime fan, and very Japanese both in conception and message. The English language dub, handled by Disney, is good for the most part and carefully enough written to match syllables with the characters’ mouth movement.
For me, though, I have to admit that Pom Poko still isn’t enough to sell the anime genre. As for the environmental message, I think I’ll take the animated version of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss instead.
Pom Poko (1994)
Isao Takahata, director and screenwriter
Studio Ghibli, available on DVD now, rated PG by the MPAA