Mania Grade: A-
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: A-
- Packaging Rating: B
- Menus Rating: B-
- Extras Rating: B-
- Age Rating: 13 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
- MSRP: 29.95
- Running time: 119
- Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Pom Poko
By Chris Beveridge
August 22, 2005
Release Date: August 16, 2005
What They Say
© Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Director Isao Takahata (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES) and the acclaimed Japanese animation studio Ghibli are the creative forces behind the environmental fable POM POKO (HEISEI TANUKI GASSEN POMPOKO). In the woods near a rapidly growing city, a group of tanuki (Japanese raccoons) live in relative peace, until the development of the town begins to intrude on their land. The tanuki are faced with a dilemma regarding the human beings, for their homes are being destroyed, but the tanuki also rely on the human community for scavenged food and goods. They decide to try using their powers of illusion and shapeshifting to scare the humans back to the central city and sabotage further building, but will their efforts come too little, too late? POM POKO uses the figure of the tanuki, an important animal in Japanese folklore and often attributed with the powers seen in the film, to comment on the nature of their society's geographic expansion and the subsequent impact on the natural world.The Review!
Takahata's look at the way man interacts with nature is one of the least talked about films in the Ghibli library which is unfortunate as it's one of the best executed ones they've made.Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this film in its original language of Japanese. With its origins being much more cultural based and the content less suitable for kids, we kept this one out of that reach and enjoyed our latest viewing of it in Japanese since it's how we've seen every release of it. The disc has a good stereo mix to it that's not a terribly immersive but it's also not a film that really requires it. The disc does include the English adaptation and that's kept in the stereo format as well. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.Video:
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 the Japanese releases, the cover is a soft blue 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 keepcase itself is the hated kind of late with the double locks on the outside while the inside just has an additional flippy hinge to hold the second disc which isn't as bad. Menu:
The menu is a cute piece that plays back some of the animation from the show while the selections are lined along the bottom. There isn't much on this release so the menus are pretty minimal but the overall layout is the same as the other releases in this wave. Access times are nice and fast and the disc correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.Extras:
The main disc has the less extras than other Ghibli releases in that it only has a selection of TV spots and trailers. No behind the scenes piece is featured here which is unfortunate but continues to show how little faith there is in this release, warranted or not. The second disc contains the rest of the extras available with the 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..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.
While we didn't watch the dub the entire way through, we did sample a lot of it after we changed the angles (which couldn't be done on the fly) and saw the credits. I'll be honest and say I have no opinion of Jonathan Taylor Thomas' work as the lead character since I can admit that I spent many years watching Home Improvement, but what really did us in with this new cast is Clancy Brown as Gonta. With no advance cast listings available, we had to laugh because we had watched Highlander just before this and then spent the next bit of time talking about his performance and role in the HBO series Carnivale. I'm a huge fan of his work and particularly his voice and presence and hearing him as the more war-like raccoon just proved to be a beautiful piece of perfect casting. The dub comes across competently from what we heard of it and it's unfortunate that it wasn't given the same kind of treatment with the behind the microphone specials that all the others received.In Summary:
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 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Storyboards
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.