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As civilization draws ever nearer to their idyllic forest home, a group of mischievous Japanese raccoons try to scare humans away. But they soon discover that man is not their only rival in their struggle for their age-old territory. Released in 1994 as the Japanese economy slumped, but looking back to the sixties construction boom in Tokyo’s Tama Hills, Pom Poko questions the money grabbing ethics of yuppie Japan, and mourns the loss of the countryside. Drawing on Japanese myths and legends, writer and director Isao Takahata presents a satirical view of woodland spirits using every available magical ruse to take on modern developers: including transformations sabotage and trickery. Pom Poko is a unique window into Japanese folklore, a comedy of modern failings, and an elegiac tale of unlikely heroes fighting insurmountable odds.
Tanuki are Racoon Dogs, native to Japan and in the film they struggle to stop the destruction of their forest by using their powers of transformation to try to scare away the humans. "Pom poko" refers to the sound Tanuki make to frighten wayfarers by drumming on their stomachs.
The animation is very special, but the many cultural references and long length (just shy of 2 hrs) mean this film requires perseverence.
The film has a kind of "Babe the sheep-pig" narration, which is good, and some funny scenes where the Tanuki try to learn their art and blend in to human society. Imagine Watership Down, but with the rabbits up for a bit of sabotage rather than moving home.
Although it features fluffy forest creatures, they aint Yogi bear (though they look a bit like him when they get happy!). They are quite prepared to wipe out a few construction workers for their cause.
Past english dubs have tried to gloss over some of the more earthy details. Real-life Tanuki are well known in Japan for their large balls, which were translated for the original Disney release to "pouches". These feature quite heavily in the film, ahem, sometimes literally so - as they are used to crush opponents!
The film has quite a serious message, which means the fun side of the Tanuki, which comes out in many scenes, is eclipsed by the sadness that their habitat is being destroyed for ever.
Overall quite interesting if you want to learn about another culture, and great if you are into animation. Perhaps not so good if you want light family entertainment.
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