Poko is at once instantly accessable and completely foreign. Japanese
culture is alien to American eyes, and Pom Poko is Takahata's celebration
of that unique Asian culture. It's the most alien of all the Studio
Poko is, as Takahata described it, a "fictional documentary"
about the culture clash between tanuki and mankind, from the tanuki
point-of-view. It is a story about the animals attempts to hold
back the tide of human progress, and it is also the story about
an indigenous population swallowed up, taken from their own land.
is a film that wears many hats, perhaps too many for those who look
at the animals and expect Winnie the Pooh or Bambi. The story weaves
through slapstick comedy, social commentary, satire, surrealism,
and tragedy. It changes moods much the way the tanuki change form,
bending and molding into a new shape, and relentlessly moving forward.
think you will understand the overall plot, as the playful tanuki
play endless pranks and try a variety of ideas to drive the incoming
humans out of their forest. You will likely miss many, if not most,
of the cultural-specific themes; the children's folk songs, the
stories and antecdotes, the mythology, the religion. But don't worry
too much; Takahata aims to rewaken his Japanese audience, one becoming
more and more Westernized, to their vast heritage. Repeated viewings
are absolutely required.
Poko is a little different for Takahata, but he still employs all
his talents, and his brilliant, calculating mind is very much in
evidence. Thematically, it's very similar to The Story of Yanagawa
Canals and Miyazaki's own Spirited Away, but with a darker, more
tragic turn. It's as much a eulogy as a call to arms.
last note for the teenagers and dumb college kids. You've heard
right. The male tanuki are shown with their genitals. It's, again,
purely a cultural thing. People in Japan don't have a problem with
it. Get over it. Grow up.
notes: Disney released Pom Poko (alongside My
Neighbors the Yamadas) last summer on DVD, with a new dubbed
soundtrack. Unfortunately, it's pretty terrible. Not that the quality
of the acting is poor (it's actually quite good in parts), but so
much of the original script is scuttled or censored that it just
ruins the film. I guess not everything can be whitewashed into the
vapid, Stepford Family-fed Disney formula, can it? Thank goodness