Foreign at the surface, lovely at the core.
Jonathon Turner | Highland Park, NJ USA | 08/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Fans who remember Isao Takahata best for his relentless tearjerker, GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, could very well react with surprise and shock upon viewing POM POKO. This lavishly animated tale about raccoons battling for their homeland (which was the biggest hit of 1994 in Japan) isn't so much a heartwrenching tragedy as it is an interesting amalgam of humor, drama, and action--all delivered in a way that is daringly original for animation. At times, the viewer gets treated to scenes which recall the one-two-three emotional punch of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, but even though the tone of the movie is somber, a handful of lighthearted moments elevate the overall production out of depression.
As this is a Studio Ghibli film, production values are spectacular. Backgrounds are painted with a tasteful mixture of simplicity and art, and the raccoons are as cuddlesome as you would expect--especially when they shape-shift from "ordinary" animals to Saturday-morning-cartoon style critters in the style of shows such as CARE BEARS. (If you're scratching your head while reading this, don't be alarmed--according to Japanese folklore, raccoons have the power to transform into anything--including human beings!) The actual animation is as colorful and imaginative as you might expect from a Ghibli movie--and there is one scene where we are treated to cameo appearances by Porco Rosso, Kiki, and Totoro.
While POM POKO has a story to tell and a meaningful message for one to think about, its character and plot aspects may come across as a bit off-putting to viewers expecting a typical animated feature. Indeed, while some raccoons identify themselves with distinguishable names and/or personalities (for example, Gonta is a burly, rough-and-ready raccoon who is always looking for a fight, while Oroku is the "wise woman" of the tribe), the story offers little in the way of character development. In fact, most of the action in the story is narrated (by Maurice LaMarche in English, Kokondei Shinchou in Japanese), which elevates the overall effect of the movie to that of a semi-documentary. For the most part, this approach works to a very interesting degree and is a refreshing change of pace. However, there were some scenes in the movie where I wished the narration could have been reduced a little bit, as it sometimes gets in the way of appreciating the beauty of the visuals onscreen.
Aside from this, the biggest controversy about POM POKO seems to be centered on several scenes where the raccoons can inflate and/or transform their testicles(!) for multiple purposes. One particular scene involves a raccoon flattening his testicles against a truck, causing its driver to crash. Such moments may be alarming to children, but it is important to remember that while we see the testicles at times, the movie is, after all, animated. Even still, while a Japanese audience may take such scenes naturally, squeamish viewers in America could react differently. In fact, as a solution to handling this kind of translation issue, the English language version (produced once again by Disney) refers to the testicles as "pouches". That's a somewhat awkward decision, but it sure beats digitally removing the testicles from the scenes they're in.
POM POKO was obviously a nightmare for English dub writers Cindy and Donald Hewitt to translate (especially since much of the movie is rooted in Japanese culture), but I really have to commend them for their efforts. There is some Americanizing here and there, but there was little, if any, that I could find missing in their script. In fact, I was most impressed at how they handled the songs; while at least two of them come across as a little contrived and/or corny, others flow so naturally that you never would have sworn that these were originally Japanese folksongs.
Another interesting aspect of the dub is the voice acting. With the exception of Jonathan Taylor Thomas (star of TV's HOME IMPROVEMENT), the cast consists of veteran performers who are known for cartoon voice work; Tress MacNeille, John DiMaggio, Russi Taylor, Andre Stojka, and Clancy Brown, to name a few. Whether this was done to cut down on costs for big-name stars or for avoiding aural distraction is unclear, but when listening to the spirit and energy that the aforementioned voice artists give their characters, it really doesn't matter. For purists, though, the original Japanese language track IS included on the DVD, as is a gorgeous visual transfer (and a disappointingly skimpy supply of extras--the only low point of this otherwise top-notch presentation from Disney).
POM POKO may be an unusual entry from Isao Takahata, and its foreign aspects may not appeal to everyone, but if given a chance, the film offers a colorful display of imagination and pathos as well as an experience unlike many that one will find from ordinary cartoons."
AN UNUSUAL STUDIO GHIBLI CLASSIC SEES A 2-DISC BAREBONES,YET
Mohd Jafar | Hyderabad, AP India | 10/03/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Pom poko is a classics tale of clash between man and nature. Rapid development in the modern world reaches tama hill and the racoons are forced to leave their natural habitat as finding food and shelter becomes harder with each passing day. With nothing seems to be working out for them, racoons decide to unite and scare away the advancement of the modern world by learning traditional art of transforming. Will they be successful in their mission or will they be wiped out by the modern world progress? Will man and nature ever learn to live in harmony? That's what forms the rest of the film in an unusual, emotional and often hilarious ways.
Pom poko is directed by another studio ghibli genious Isao takahata who happens to be hayao miyazaki's long time friend and his senior. Pom poko remains studio ghibli's most strange film till date which is in no way lesser rich and intense than any other ghibli films but few contents in the movie may put some viewers off. The movie has been given a pg rating. It does contain lots of frightening images, ghosts, scrotums and a few references of mating here and there.
Lets now move on to this 2disc dvd release by disney and buena vista. Although it is a 2disc edition but it still is a barebone release. This time there's not even a "behind the microphone" featurette which featured on all previous ghibli releases by disney. It is said that pom poko was the hardest dub for disney as it had lots of songs, hundreds of racoons talking and situations where dialogues were needed not just for the racoons talking and singing but the objects like tv and other stuff in the background as well. Though the english dub is nowhere near the original japanese track, yet a behind the scenes on english dubbing would have made some sense, at least this time.
Pom poko dvd shines when it comes to picture and sound quality. The digital transfer is crisp and flawless. English and japanese, both audio tracks on the disc have been rendered in dolby digital 2.0 surround sound. Only extra feature on disc one happens to be original trailers and tv spots of the movie. Disc two, as usual, contains the full movie in storyboard form which would have made more sense had it been given alongwith the film on the first disc.
Pom poko contains japanese cultural and traditional references and themes more than any other studio ghibli film. It would have been really interesting to see a feature explaining all those in detail. The least expected was the feature on "tanuki" (racoons, as they call it in japanese) which appears on the region2 dvd of pom poko released by buena vista japan.
Pom poko is a comparatively lesser known (to the west) film from studio ghibli which is on par with any of their own fims when it comes to richness and execution of the subject and does not disappoint in anyway. The animation is detailed and flawless and backgrounds lush and breathtaking. People at disney had a hard time just dubbing the voices for the racoons, wonder what the animators at ghibli would have gone through animating them!
Although this dvd is light on extras, yet the set is definitely worthwhile just for the movie itself. Highly recommended to all studio ghibli fans out there (who definitely do not need my recommendation, i'm sure!!!) and to everyone else looking for good cinema with great storytelling."
Not an 'American-style' kiddy show?
Zeki | USA | 01/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ah, now this is a wonderful little film. While I admit that I was skeptical at first, it quickly reveals itself to be a sweet, sad, and humorous story, well worth the two hours it takes to watch it.
As other reviewers have mentioned, there are any number of scenes in this movie that many would consider inappropriate for younger children - but one must bear in mind that what is appropriate for children varies widely from country to country.
The movie focuses on a clan of Tanuki, mistakenly called 'raccoons' in the dubbed version. In actuality, tanuki, or 'raccoon DOGS,' are a species of small-bodied wild dogs, rather like foxes, but closely resembling the raccoons of North America. These are canines, not raccoons, but as few children or even adults are aware of this, the change can be forgiven.
In Japanese folklore, cats, foxes, and tanuki are powerful shapeshifting tricksters, and Pom Poko relies heavily on these old tales. The tanuki change shape with their moods - from the realistic creatures they show themselves as when humans are around, to the cartoonish anthropomorphic caricatures they interact with one another as. In battle, their forms shift from warrior to peasant as the tide turns towards and against their favor.
The story is a familiar one - creatures driven from their homes rally together to oppose the humans - but the goings on are rather unlike anything one would see in an animated movie produced in America. Characters are killed by cars, transform themselves into demons, and use their pronounced scrotums as weapons. And yet it all flows together perfectly, and even the testicles are hardly a bother once one has become engrossed in the story.
I imagine quite a few young children may find parts of this movie upsetting, and the conclusion is hardly the fairy-tale ending seen in so many Disney movies, but any emotionally mature child should have no problem with any of the content. If the presence of the testicles seriously bothers you, the English dub conveniently calls them 'pouches.' (No, tanuki most definitely do NOT have pouches... neither do raccoons, but I doubt you'll care if you're already so afraid of anatomy, now will you?) It's not as if your child is going to use his own testicles as a weapon (and if he does, I'd love to hear about it), and any child who has owned a male animal, or is in fact male himself, is bound NOT to be traumatized by the sight.
Have a little faith in your child, and in the makers of this film, and give it a chance. If you keep an open mind about the other cultures of this world, I'm sure you'll be surprised by this oddly endearing movie."
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 08/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is another indication of how surprisingly wonderful the Studio Ghibli films can be. This film brings ancient Japanese traditions to life in a remarkably modern story, told after the fashion of a nature documentary. I loved to see the racoons monkey-wrenching a new development in Japan that threatened their habitat. For open-minded children of all ages, this is a magical ecological fable. For children too young to understand the, um, transforming body parts, or for parents too uptight to acknowledge that an animal's sex organs are perfectly natural to show in what is effectively a nature story, the Disney-dubbed English version of this story calls them "racoon pouches." The Japanese is also included though, and the subtitles for the Japanese version are much more literal."