A group of tanuki (magical Japanese racoon dogs) find their habitat threatened by developers looking to make a cheap buck out of Tokyo’s growing population needs. The tanuki must re-learn their ancient magical power of transformation to try to scare away the humans and save their land, but when the humans are so strong and the tanuki so easily distracted, it may take a magical display of huge proportions to achieve their aims.

Pom Poko (1994) – Director: Isao Takahata

Is Pom Poko appropriate for kids

Rating: PG

Running Length: 119 mins

Starring: (English Language Dub: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, J.K. Simmons, Tress MacNeille)

Genre: Animated, Fantasy, Comedy

REVIEW

Focusing on the Japanese mythology of ‘Tanuki’ (magical racoon dogs that can transform into anything they desire), ‘Pom Poko’ doesn’t appear at first glance to be a film that will translate well for western audiences. Even with the help of the constant narration, the plot is heavily rooted in Japanese folklore. And is often the case with folklore tales, even though this is often a very funny and silly film about greedy magical animals with a short attention span, there are many moments of unexpected violence and death.

‘Pom Poko’ deals with the human incursion on animals’ land and how urbanisation destroys the countryside and the forest life that dwells there. The tone varies from subtle to full on directly addressing the viewer with metaphorical finger wagging. Overt preaching aside the real draw is the lovability of the tanuki themselves. They are always quick to party, love gorging on human food and, once their innate transforming abilities are re-awakened, delight in using these powers at every given opportunity.

Like most films by Studio Ghibli, Japan’s premier animation studio, ‘Pom Poko’ has charm in spades. It looks beautiful throughout. The forests teem with life and once the tanuki start transforming, the screen is filled with wonderful fantasy animation that should delight child viewers. However, the pacing is rather slow and very little happens for most of the first hour. This isn’t a high energy movie; nor is this a movie that takes its time to build up to a huge climax. More ‘Pom Poko’ is a movie that has some points it would like to explore and wants to explore them with you. It’s a long Sunday afternoon of a movie and if you or your child want to put your feet up and relax to a lovingly crafted piece of film making, then ‘Pom Poko’ may be for you.

IS ‘POM POKO’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

‘Pom Poko’ deals with Japanese mythology and the desperation of animals when their habitat is threatened and as such doesn’t shy away from being rather adult with its depictions of these themes. Therefore there is quite a bit of content that a parent may want to know about but we have highlighted the strongest content below. If your child is alright with these parts then the rest of the movie should also be acceptable to them.

The tanuki (referred to as ‘raccoons’ in the voiceover) are at first split into two groups. One of which is led by the hot-headed Gonta whose answer to everything is to fight and attack. At the beginning of the movie he is leading a battle charge across a large field. Once the two sides clash there is a short moment of mass fighting that consists of things like the racoons bashing each other over the head. This fight is over pretty quickly and the two sides decide to team up and take on the humans instead. Gonta is very aggressive in this aim. He often shouts things like ‘death to humans’ and always advocates fighting.

The dialogue often deals with violent themes. The raccoons debate whether or not they should be more violent towards the humans in trying to stop them from destroying their land. One character says, “Hunters shot my grandfather,” but then says that this is ok as “they didn’t fry him up and eat him, the just used his pelt.” During one part where the raccoons step up trying to steal food, some of them end up killed on the roads (one is actually seen to be run over by a car). One is shown lying dead with blood around its head. Later, after being badly wounded in a fight, dozens of raccoons (including some established characters) are killed when a large truck crashes into them.

One thing that cannot be gotten away from is the source of the raccoons’ magical powers. Although the dubbed dialogue refers to the source as the racoons’ ‘pouches’, it is clearly seen to be their testicles (in line with the folklore roots of the tanuki). The racoons’ testicles are shown on camera constantly throughout the movie ranging from small furry spheres on some occasions to large transforming weapons or tools on others. One elderly racoon uses his magical testicles to swell out in size and form a carpet, a large ship, and a parachute respectively. When Gonta and his followers attack the humans they jump into the air, have their ‘pouches’ inflate to a huge size, and then land on the humans to crush them under their spherical weight. They even swing them like baseball bats to batter the humans! You may find some curious questions about this sort of content and although it is never coarsely done, it is a core part of the story and is therefore unavoidable.

There is fairly frequent reference to “love being in the air”, which is a reference to the mating season. For the first year as the raccoons are focused on re-learning their magical abilities we see that they refrain from ‘romance’ and ‘raising cubs’. For the second year they cannot contain themselves and start chasing members of the opposite sex. When this is discussed it is in relation to marriage, family and raising children and so isn’t graphic in depicting this element.

There are many moments that could be rather frightening for young children. The raccoons try to scare away the humans and use a variety of transforming tricks to achieve this. One imitates a women crying in the street and when someone approaches to help, she turns round and is shown to have no face. The human is terrified. She chases after him to scare him some more. He flees into a supermarket and all the people turn to him, also lacking their faces. The man faints and all the people turn back into raccoons and celebrate their achievement. Another moment shows two raccoons imitating identical twin children. They go into the workers break room and cry that their home has gone. They then run around the room (and horizontally on the walls) screaming before vanishing into thin air and the men are all terrified.

Near the end of the movie the raccoons put on a huge ‘parade’. The humans think it is some sort of show and so for the most part react with curiosity. There are some moments, like the creation of a fake tsunami, that scare them but that is short. Rather unexpectedly there is a brief shot of some boys giggling around a magazine. As they get scared and throw it into the air we can clearly an image of a naked women, including her bare bosom, on the magazine’s page for a second or two. It happens very fast, but it is there!

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

Although in literal terms there is a lot of potentially unsuitable content in ‘Pom Poko’, the tone of the movie is very light-hearted and most scary or violent parts are followed up by a funny or silly moment. ‘Pom Poko’ does suffer from taking a very slow approach to story-telling; it isn’t a movie for someone with a short attention span. What the film does do well is be sweet, charming, and very distinctly Japanese. Due to the scary moments that are scattered liberally throughout the film, and the calls to violence that are also constant, we would say that this film is appropriate for children aged 7 and over.

  • Violence:  2/5
  • Emotional Distress: 2/5
  • Fear Factor: 3/5
  • Sexual Content: 2/5       
  • Bad Language: 0/5
  • Dialogue: 3/5 (constant talk of fighting, news reports often mention that humans have died in bizarre ‘accidents’ which the audience know are a result of the racoons’ antics)  
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of urban growth, animal preservation, dealing with limited resources and whether or not violent or passive resistance is best.

Words by Mike Record

 

Pom Poko [DVD]


New From: £9.27 GBP In Stock

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