An animated film, also known as Pompoko, directed by Isao Takahata (高畑勲) for Studio Ghibli. Released in July 16, 1994 in Japan to both critical and popular acclaim. The story, written by Takahata, follows the plight of a group of tanuki fighting to keep their forest from destruction.
The Tanuki (狸) are canines, with raccoon-like colors, found in Asia. Tanuki are omnivores that can be found living in forests. In Japanese folklore, the tanuki are believed to have the ability to change forms. They are often depicted with large scrotums, and large bellies. The scrotum is said to be the source of the tanuki's power. In children's tales a tanuki can use their own belly as a drum.
The onomatopoeia, 'pompoko pon' (ぽんぽこぽん) is often used to describe the sound of a tanuki's belly. While tanukis use their power to play trick on humans, they are considered rather cute and lovable.
During the rapid expansion of Tokyo, many forested hills were clear cut, and transformed to create new community/housing developments. The story revolves around the tanuki affected by the Tama New Town (多摩ニュータウン) development. The story begins with two groups of tanuki engaging in battle over the diminishing food supply. An elder tanuki stops the battle, and shows the tanuki the human development. Realizing that the food shortage was caused by the humans, the tanuki decide to band together to stop stop the humans and protect their forest. Given their newfound mission, the tanukis begin studying humans and revive the lost art of transformation. The film follows the tanuki's successes and failures in protecting their forests.
Aside from the obvious ideas of man's relationship with nature, the film also explores the ideas of modern vs. traditional culture, violent vs. non-violent resistance, the generation gap, cultural assimilation, and even love. The story is told in a relatively linear fashion, incorporating elements from traditional Japanese storytelling. While the story is mainly comedic, there are various powerfully dramatic scenes interspersed throughout.
Aside from a number of minor parts the film was animated by hand, featuring a very rich color palette. The film switches between both realistic and exaggerated animation in presenting its story. At times the tanuki are presented as they are in nature, on all fours, and undistinguishable from one another. While at other times the tanuki are portrayed standing on two feet and wearing distinctive clothes. The two styles are used to emphasize story points, and serves to remind the viewer the reality of the various issues presented. In the forest, the viewer is shown pre-modern/traditional objects and characters to contrast the concrete reality of the developing human world. The film is filled with many familiar (to a Japanese viewer) images from Japanese folklore.
Awards and Distinctions
Soon after it's release Pompoko became the highest grossing local film in Japanese history, later being topped by Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Pompoko has also won the distinctions of Best Animated Film at the 1994 Mainichi Concours, and Best Animated Feature Film at the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
The film was distributed by the Toho Company Ltd. The only currently available legal copies of the film are Region 2 DVDs, released in Japan under the Ghibli ga ippai (ジブリがいっぱい) Collection. The DVD includes English subtitles, and comes with a second disc containing numerous extras. The film was given a very limited North American release in 1995 in an attempt to garner a Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The North American rights are currently held by Disney.
However, given the culturally specific nature of the film, it seems unlikely that this film will be released to the North American market. The film is set to be released in North America as a two-disc DVD set in August 2005.
This film can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, and is recommended to audiences of all ages. However, due to some particular cultural differences (numerous depictions of the scrotum), some viewers may be offended. The film is particularly recommended to those with an interest in / knowledge of Japanese folklore, or to those concerned with environmental protection.