Pom Poko (1994)

pom poko poster 1994 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

Studio Ghibli generally puts out a good product

The story is interesting but kind of all over

Movie Info

Movie Name: Pom Poko

Studio:  Studio Ghibli

Genre(s): Animated/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):  July 16, 1994 (Japan)/April 21, 1995 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG

pom poko japanese raccoon dogs tanuki

I’d much rather have this animation throughout…

In the Tama Hills, the tanuki (aka raccoon dogs) live peacefully and coexist with the humans that help boost their food supply.  When a war for the land is cut short by Oroku who points out that the land is quickly disappearing due to encroaching human settlements, the tanuki realize they must protect their lands if they hope to survive.  With the ability to change form, they set out to find a way to stop the development…and find themselves in a potentially unwinnable battle.

Written and directed by Isao Takahata, Pom Poko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ or Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko aka Heisei-Era Raccoon Dog War Ponpoko) is a Japanese animated environmental fantasy movie.  The film received positive reviews upon its release.

With the wave of Studio Ghibli anime coming to American in the mid-1990s to 2000s, I never even really heard of Pom Poko in comparison to bigger titles.  As a fan of Studio Ghibli I sought out the movie and enjoyed it, but it isn’t like many other Studio Ghibli pictures.

pom poko master human disguises

The Masters always like to subtly blend in with humans

The story is an odd one and part of the struggle might come from cultural differences.  The Japanese relationship with their land is different than in America and other parts of the world, and even the lead characters in this story are something not everyone can understand.  The translated version of Pom Poko simply called the characters raccoons (which are widely common), but the animals are really raccoon dogs (or tanuki) which inhabit that region of the world…they look similar but they aren’t the same, but they are also know culturally for their legendary abilities.  Even the title would be more familiar to Japanese audiences because it comes from the 1919 poem by Ujō Noguchi which describes the sound of tanuki drumming on their stomachs.

The tanuki themselves take various approaches to the danger facing them.  Some want to fight, some want to hide, and some want to scare the humans.  This also ties into tanuki mythology of them being shapeshifters (along with foxes) which is something not very prevalent in American culture.  The American transfer also glosses over that much of the power and shapeshifting ability comes from their ball-sack (which can be seen…especially in the big battle at the end).  They call it “their pouch” in the movie, but younger viewers might have some questions (in addition to a lot of talk about sex and mating).

pom poko japanese raccoon dogs tanuki testicles

Nothing like a cartoon where animals ride their own hairy nut sacks into battle

Visually the movie is very well done.  In particular I like the naturalized tanuki (before they transform into the more cartoon version), but it also incorporates a lot of Japanese culture into the visuals and means by which the tanuki try to drive off the humans.

Despite differences that may be hard for some to follow, Pom Poko can be universally enjoyed by everyone.  The basic themes of conservation and the creeping industrialization are something that every culture faces.  It is a strange story with an even stranger “solution” (which even the movie plays with and backtracks on at points).  Studio Ghibli always provides a solid picture, and Pom Poko is a worthy entry in their releases.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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