Thursday, July 20, 2006

Movie Log: Pom Poko

This is the saddest movie appropriate for kids that I have ever seen. (And, yes, I do seem to spend my life paraphrasing Ford Madox Ford -- I'm not sure why.)

It's a Studio Ghibli movie, but not one by Hayao Miyazaki -- I'm expanding out slightly since all of the Miyazaki movies the boys and I have seen over the past few months have been great, and I've heard good things about Ghibli in general. I picked this movie for last week's "Boys' Movie Saturday" (which my two sons and I do pretty much every week) because it looked a bit more whimsical and less dark than Princess Mononoke, which would be our next Miyazaki movie. (In retrospect, perhaps I should have noticed that Isao Takahata, who directed Pom Poko, is best known for the single most depressing animated movie of all time, Grave of the Fireflies.)

Pom Poko is the story of a community of tanuki (translated into English as "raccoons," since they not only fill that ecological niche, but they look almost exactly like North American raccoons) whose home in the Tama Hills is being developed by humans as a new Tokyo suburb. The movie tracks their reactions to the development, from initially fighting among each other, through various ways of trying to stop the development, until their final failure. In an American movie, of course, they would succeed in some heartwarming way, but this movie is set in the '60s and is about a specific real place -- the Tama Hills development was completed, so the original Japanese audience must have known that all of these raccoons would eventually be displaced or killed.

There's lots of humor in the movie, but there's also lots of anger (directed at humans in general), and it's probably not appropriate for younger kids. (My younger son is five, and that's possibly younger than is ideal for this movie.) This really isn't a "kids' movie" -- it's a family movie. Several tanuki die onscreen (including at least one major named character, and one whom we see after he was hit by a car), and their emotional life is not the usual flattened one typically seen in movies for children.

It's a heavily narrated movie, since it covers several years -- the narrator covers months of events in a couple of sentences, and the first quarter of the movie goes by before we really focus on any of the characters as people. (Though that changes after that point.) Having the English-language narrator be Maurice LeMarche, the voice of "the Brain," added another level of distance for me -- there's something cynical and pessimistic for me in that voice to begin with, a feeling that all plans will come to nothing and that the world will eventually crush our heroes.

Seeing this movie not too long after Over the Hedge, an extruded American-animation product with a similar idea, really brought home what good work Studio Ghibli has done. Pom Poko is a bit preachy (it seems to exist mostly to shame the Japanese people about their post-war building boom), but it's generally honest, and it has real emotional power and force. We ended up watching it twice over the weekend (though I didn't pay as much attention to it the second time through), and it is a movie worth watching twice in quick succession.

But I will need to be more careful the next time I try to find a nice, light movie to watch with the boys...

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I've seen most of the Studio Ghibli flick actually directed by Miyazaki .. Since I have no younguns to worry about, I'll definitely check it out!

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