Without fail, and regardless of the plot, there are a number of similar and familiar themes running through every Studio Ghibli feature. Yet among the most prominent – feminism, and characters far removed from their element or comfort zones – environmentalism is a common through line. Co-founder Isao Takahata isn’t normally known for a lot of levity or fluff in his films. Think about Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguya and it’s easy to imagine Takahata as the Felix Unger to his partner, and fellow Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki.
Pom Poko is rife with weighty and mature themes. At the heart of the film is the message about finding balance with nature and the environment. But also about the balance between ourselves regardless of whether you are human, animal, or anything in between. Yet, in what can almost be seen as Takahata wearing two hats, this story can be as serious as it is funny…and it is hilarious. In a way, Pom Poko is the animated embodiment, crossroads is more like it, of the worlds and ideas in the films of Miyazaki, and those of Takahata.
Pom Poko is ridiculously entertaining and about as absurd as a Ghibli film can get. The irreverent humor is the charm that makes this a blast whether it’s your first time seeing this, or your hundredth. Not perfect, but it really is an exceptional outing. Not exactly and exclusively for children, but a vastly underrated and unsung page in the Ghibli catalog.
Tonally, it is kind of all over the place, but the liberties taken help distinguish it from any number of preachy, tree-hugging stories out there. Futher the film is a fine example of a filmmaker making the film he wanted to make. It’s the conviction that people will remember long after the credits roll even, if they can’t recall how or why shape-shifting racoon fit into quasi-serious material.
More to that point, Pom Poko, even with the off the wall comedy, is a tale with serious stakes and legitimate threats – some of the most adversarial in any of the Studio’s titles. But then, as if to remind itself that it’s OK to have fun with the story, things get wacky and bizarre for the sake of it (well, it was Miyazaki’s original idea, so go figure). You’ll get no complaints whatsoever from us as this was a special time when the director and the studio, possibly taking a victory lap, really let their hair down. Anything can and in fact does work in this fanciful and cautionary tale. Again, it is hilarious.
One thing is for sure, whether or not raccoon genitalia (which becomes a gag for most of the run time), is acceptable in your household, this Blu-Ray is a must have. The film is both a surprise and a delight and we’re happy to see it get a new lease on life. As one of Gibili’s more under rated films, renewed interest is greatly needed especially with rumors of the studio planning to close its doors. Now it probably won’t pan out as bad as people speculate, but helping hype older properties is one of the reasons that sites like ours exist.
It’s almost hard to pin down what works better – the humorous raccoon clans, the devotion to a cause, or the underlying message about industrialism, and the hard truths of evolution. Honestly, it all gels wonderfully and this should have more fans than it does. It’s really great that Pom Poko, and other undervalued titles are getting their day in the sun thanks to these exquisite Blu-Ray releases (note: even though these are distributed by Disney, as always, the Japanese audio track is the best way to go). It’s just a shame that the supplements don’t match the quality of the high-def transfer and how much fun these films are.