Starring: Kokontei Shinchou, Makoto Nonomura, Yuriko Ishida
Director: Isao Takahata
Running Time: 119 mins
Pom Poko is a Japanese film about a tribe of shape-shifting raccoons living on the outskirts of Tokyo whose home comes under threat from rapid human urbanisation.
Most Studio Ghibli movies fit into one of two categories: epic fantasy adventures like Princess Mononoke, or lighter, more family-friendly films like My Neighbour Totoro. However, Pom Poko is one of only two Ghibli films that doesn’t really fit into those categories. It’s got a light-hearted vibe, but simultaneously touches on a lot of serious notes, making it a different and intriguing watch even for the biggest Ghibli fan.
Surprisingly, what I liked most about Pom Poko was its light-hearted side. At times, this is possibly the funniest Studio Ghibli movie, with a heap of jokes that actually play more to adult audiences than kids. Of course, this is still a film that families can watch together, but there are surprisingly a lot of gags throughout that you wouldn’t expect to find in your average Ghibli film.
The comedy is a lot of fun, however, and on a pretty consistent basis. The wide range of zany personalities amongst the raccoons makes for some brilliantly entertaining conflicts, whilst Takahata gives a playful take on the Japanese legend of the raccoons’ ability to shape-shift, making for some big laughs right from the start.
However, whilst the comedy is very effective, it’s not the main purpose of this movie. Rather than be a simply enjoyable film, Pom Poko’s story revolves heavily around environmental concerns for animals living nearby human developments.
Now, more often than not, environmental movies can feel very preachy, as I’ve noted in films like Avatar and The Simpsons Movie, and although Pom Poko does fall victim to preaching on a couple of occasions, its message didn’t take my attention away from the story being told here, which was good to see.
What the story then does very effectively is make you sympathise with these raccoons as they begin to suffer from the human expansion into their habitats, which means that the film’s more emotional moments, when the raccoons are forced to choose between abandoning their home or fighting, are so much more effective than if the film was giving a general statement against urbanisation.
Overall, I liked Pom Poko. It’s a film that manages to walk the fine line between being preachy and emotionally effective very well, and makes an intriguing watch as a result, whilst it also shines with some fantastically funny humour that helps to make it stand out as a somewhat different production by Studio Ghibli, and that’s why it gets a 7.5 from me.