Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pom Poko (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Sunday, March 23, 2003
Release Date: Wednesday, December 18, 2002
What They Say
Nearly choked to extinction by mankind's city development projects, a raccoon race (the Tanukis) decides to fight back. Luckily, they have a power to transform themselves into humans.... The 1994 anime hit was directed by Isao Takahata, one of Studio Ghibli's two master filmmakers. Unlike "Grave of the Fireflies" which is Takahata's internationally best known work, this film is a comedy fantasy that leads to an unexpected conclusion. Like most of other Ghibli films, it has an environmental issue presented in an entertaining and unpreachy manner.
One of the more disliked releases from Studio Ghibli ends up becoming one of my favorites out of their library.
With only a Japanese language track available, it?s easy to make a choice. The mix for this film is a basic pro-logic one that sounds decent with some minor use of the rear speakers with some of the sound effects. It?s not a terribly immersive mix, but it?s also not a film that really requires it.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for those with anamorphic displays, this transfer look great, much better than the theatrical print that I had seen a few years back. Colors are nice and solid, the palette used is mostly real-world like most of the Ghibli films. Cross coloration and aliasing is pretty much non-existent, allowing one to just enjoy the transfer and therefore the film.
Keeping in tone with past Ghibli Collection releases, the cover is a soft peach color with the single shot from the film in the center that has a wonderful image of most of the main cast members sitting on the porch singing along together. The back cover has a great shot from the film with them on the tower while providing all the technical information and disc features. The insert is the usual piece that explains how to use the disc and its various features.
The menu is a very simple static piece with the small square block of artwork in the center of white screen while the selections ring around it. With little on the disc outside of the film itself, there?s not much to do here and it?s very quick and easy to move about.
The second disc contains all the extras available with the bulk of it being the multi-angle storyboard feature that lets you change angles between the storyboards and the actual animation itself for the full length of the film. The other extras are just commercials for the other pieces in the Ghibli Collection.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The more and more I end up actually thinking about the output of the Ghibli studio and those within it, I continue to find myself more and more in the camp of being a Takahata favorite. While Grave of the Fireflies isn?t considered a part of the collection, the relationship between the two men is influential both ways, so there?s definitely Miyazaki and Ghibli in that work, much like everything else the two have worked on.
Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pom Poko, also sometimes known as The Raccoon War, but more general as Pom Poko, is Takahata?s attempt at an environmentally concerned film while avoiding the preachy manner that has plagued Miyazaki?s work. Whether he succeeds or not is entirely dependent on how one views the message itself, as some will find any mention of environmentalism to be preachy. Pom Poko?s attempt, going in from the point of view of several tribes of raccoons facing extinction, is presented comically for the most part but always with an underpinning of sadness.
The story takes place on one mountain in Tokyo that?s now facing development in the late 60?s. With the need for more and more housing in the booming population, development is on the fast track all over the area. In the mountains that are essentially flattened and scraped clean, locals go in first and perform the rites and rituals to transplant the statues, shrines and other religious artifacts of their local history. What they don?t do, which is surprising considering how many artifacts are based on animals, is to look at the impact on the animals.
The raccoons, now gathered under the concerned eye of the ?grandmother? raccoon of the area, shows them the dangers coming in the days ahead as most hadn?t realized just what the development of the mountain was doing. With this new shock to their system, they end up deciding on a five year plan to try and halt the development and get the humans to leave the area. A big thrust of this five-year plan is for the younger raccoons in the tribes to learn metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis is a skill that all raccoons have, but has been a lost art for centuries after it had been heavily abused centuries earlier and humans became offended by it. With their powers, depending on their ability to control it, they can assume a wide variety of shapes, including those of humans. Working in concert, they can create even bigger objects, such as a stack of them pretending to be a tree that falls over and causes a construction vehicle to go off the road.
So for the first year, the raccoons learn to master their abilities of transformation and eventually go out into the human world to try and hone them further. They then begin their campaign to cause all sorts of problems, which results in many of the locals calling the place haunted and questioning the project. Of course, for every human they scare aware, there?s more than enough who will want to take their place and make some money. This fact tends to be hard for the raccoons to understand and only adds to their eventual frustration.
The war between the two groups, though one side is really unknowing about it, goes back and forth at various levels for the next two years while emissaries from the mountain head out in search of Masters of Transformation to come and help them fully. We learn more of the full picture of what?s going on with the construction project and other areas, as we see the raccoons trying to deal with it all. Some of them are pretty savvy, as they manage to realize they need a TV early on to monitor things and set that up in the headquarters. The raccoons even question the fullness of their war as it progresses, since it would mean the end of all the human things they love, like fried chicken and beer.
Pom Poko manages to change nicely as it progresses into something a bit darker and more disturbing as the shows message becomes clearer, if it wasn?t at the beginning, by showing the results of the war. I enjoyed this film immensely the first time I saw it in the theaters and have been eager since to have it on DVD. One of the more amusing things I found with it, in not having seen it for well over four years now, is that it pre-dates my problems with the Nadia series. If there is one thing that?s overly expressed in this show, but done in a very comical way at times, is that the raccoon?s nads are very powerful aspects of their transformation weaponry. It?s so bad that it?s funny, and I can?t help it. It won?t change my opinion of Nadia, but the nads in Pom Poko serve a purpose.
Pom Poko?s not going to be a favorite for a lot of people, but I love it a lot and have a lot of fun watching it. It?s definitely one of the lighter films in total to come out of the Ghibli studio since their start and it?s a film that will throw you the first time you see it in how it?s unlike their other releases. Very enjoyable and fun to watch.
Japanese Language,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Japanese Subtitles,Storyboard to Film Alternate Angles
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment Japan
Running time: 119
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Pom Poko