Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pom Poko (orig. Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko) [1994]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -

Pom Poko (orig. Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko) [1994] directed and cowritten by Isao Takahata [IMDb] along with Hayao Miyazaki [IMDb] co-founders of the internationally acclaimed Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli [IMDb] being honored this summer in a truly remarkable animated film series entitled Castles in the Sky playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center is a children's animated cartoon (dubbed into English) about an "epic struggle" between generally mild-mannered, gifted but rather lazy Japanese raccoons (called tanuki) and human developers seeking to build a new subdivision on their land somewhere at the outskirts of Tokyo.

The film begins with two bands of Japanese raccoons, one band dressed in blue shirts, the other in red, fighting each other (though not particularly seriously) on a nice meadow in the foothills outside of Tokyo as they had been doing for ages past.  A elderly "wise woman" raccoon named Oroku (voiced in the English version by Tress MacNeill) interrupts the fight, telling the raccoons that unless they band together to resist the encroaching humans, the land on which they are fighting will be taken away from all of them.

So the raccoons decide to band together to fight the common enemy -- humans.  But how?  Well here there's a problem.  Though the raccoons quickly agree with Oroku and the other elder, an Buddhist-raccoon Abbot named Tsurugame (voiced by Kozan Yanagiya), that they are going have to "work together" be "very clever" and indeed have to _relearn_ their traditional "shape shifting" skills, raccoons, though amiable and yes, generally clever are ... well ... easily distracted/lazy ;-).  So when one of the raccoons brings back a television set from a garbage dump for the purpose helping the raccoons "better understand their human opponents," the narrator (voiced in the EV by Maurice Lamarche) notes that pretty soon most of the raccoons "just wanted to sit around and watch TV" ;-) to the consternation of the Elders, who were frustrated that the younger racoons just didn't want to take anything seriously ... ;-).

Nevertheless, the raccoons' traditional shape-shifting skills were simply too cool for the younger raccoons to resist forever and so they gradually got on board ;-).  When these raccoons living at the outskirts of Tokyo reached a certain level in their "shape-shifting" skills, the elder Tsurugame sent-out for even greater "raccoon masters" who lived on the Japanese island of Shikoku where presumably raccoons were less urbanized and were able to better maintain their traditional skills.

Wonderful, a fair number of the raccoons were able to learn quite well the art of shape shifting, but what now?  Well, the raccoons learned that they could really, really scare human construction workers by shape-shifting into ghosts and monsters.  But when they decided to "go on the offensive" and stage a massive shape-shifting display all across a fairly large section of the suburbs of Tokyo, suddenly the owner of a local amusement park claimed that this display was just a big publicity stunt for his new park.  Darn!  All that work and now instead of being scared, now humans were just being amused!  Who could be that clever to turn something that the raccoons worked on so hard into something that humans would just find quaint and amusing?  There's an explanation and it's clever, but see the movie ... ;-).

The rest of the movie is about the raccoons trying to figure out what to do next.  Do they continue to resist?  Do they try to make some sort of a peace with the humans?  And hey, if one can "shape shift" couldn't one just "shape shift into being a human" and take the view of "if you can't beat them, join them?"

It all becomes a really fun story (and leaving one obviously with _much_ to think about ;-).  Pom Poko [1994] like the other films in the Castles in the Sky series shown at the Gene Siskel Film Center this summer is available for rent through the a la carte (no subscription needed) $5/film rent-by-mail service.  And honestly, this is fun movie to see!  I'll never think of racoons the same way again ;-) ;-)

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