Pom Poko (1994) – [subtitled]
I’m watching all the Studio Ghibli films chronologically and sharing my thoughts. Some again, some for the first time.

‘Poko’ is probably not the best film for newcomers to Studio Ghibli. And while I have criticisms, it’s a fun, bizarre, emotional, witty, wholly unique film about a bunch of adorable shape-shifting, anthropomorphized Japanese raccoon dogs, whose forest is slowly being destroyed and taken over by humans, that decide to fight back in hilarious ways.

I really enjoyed my third film by Takahata (‘Only Yesterday’ and the masterful ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ being the first) on many levels. For one it is a rich allegory for the destruction of nature in lieu of progress. And how what happens to the tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) can be further extrapolated to humans, our class system, suburban sprawl, and the destruction of the planet.

Another theme is metamorphosis, change, and discovering one’s hidden potential. It is not easy for tanuki to transform, just as humans struggle with breaking with their identities and habits. Not to mention that different (and sometimes challenging) circumstances reveals character and can bring out hidden potential in all of us. This also highlights the balance we have with serious work, what’s best for the tribe, vs. the need to enjoy life and be self-indulge.

I also found I really enjoyed the occasional voice-over; it gave it a semi-documentary effect that really balanced out the tone of the film – whimsical, yet serious. However, this is also the first Studio Ghibli film to not be a five-out-of-five for me. I feel that compared to other Ghibli films, ‘Poko’ drags in some places, is a bit too long overall, is slightly unfocused at times, and ends with a shrug of pointlessness.

That said, check this one out for its pure playfulness, engagingly bizarro antics, and look into Japanese culture and folklore. Seriously, there isn’t anything like it.