Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday Night Movie Night - Pom Poko

Every Friday night for the last few months we've declared it Movie Night and have made our own pizza and picked out a movie to share. We always use either Netflix or our library to borrow movies that we'd all like to see. As you can imagine, it's kind of challenging to find a film that both parents, a fiver year old and a two year old will enjoy.

We've had great luck with most of the Hayao Miyazaki films though. You may have heard of Spirited Away or Howl's moving Castle. Kiki's Delivery Service and Our Neighbor Totoro have been classics in our home for quite some time. So we've been trying to find more recent Miyazaki films but it's not easy; they are hand drawn animated films which means they take a while to make to begin with, then you have to remember that they're Japanese films so they have to be translated into English. There are few films we haven't seen yet but this Friday we watched one we hadn't seen called Pom Poko. First, let me clarify that Pom Poko is not directed by Miyazaki but by Isao Takahata but it is a Studio Ghibli film (Miyazaki's studio).

Here is the brief online summary of the film: Isao Takahata's outré ecological fable Pom Poko was the no. 1 domestic film in Japan in 1994, and the first animated feature to be submitted for the Oscar for Foreign Language Film. In 1967, the raccoons in the Tama Hills find their homes are threatened with destruction when developers turn the rural area into suburbs. Under the leadership of their tribal elders the animals fight back with every resource at their disposal. Raccoons are shape-shifters in Japanese folk tales, and the members of this tribe can transform into objects, other creatures and even humans. Unlike Takahata's deeply moving The Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko (the sound made by thumping the tummy of a comfortably full raccoon) is a broad comedy. The raccoons' efforts to understand humans, their evocations of traditional ghost stories to frighten construction crews, and their internecine quarrels offers plenty of laughs. But the story rambles, and the characters lack the depth needed to sustain the audience's interest until the film's belated, downbeat conclusion. The extras include Takahata's storyboards, which are interesting, but lack the magic of Hayao Miyazaki's drawings on other Studio Ghibli discs. Note: male raccoons have prominent testicles, which are shown in Japanese art, including the designs for Pom Poko. When the characters grow desperate, they swell their scrotums to enormous size and use them as weapons. (Rated PG, Parental Guidance Suggested: violence, scary images and thematic elements) --Charles Solomon

Here's what we thought of it:

Ben - The racoons are funny, and lazy and they eat a lot. They're good at tricks.
Nate - Totoro, totoro- he says this whenever he sees the Studio Ghibli logo at the beginning of the films. He also said "they running!" when the racoons ran. All in all, I think that's a thumbs up.
Tim - What is up with the racoon scrotums?
Me - Tim, are you a transforming racoon ? You drink a lot of energy drinks and that's what racoons drink to maintain their stamina when transforming.

It's not bad, but it does leave a lot to be desired. It runs about an hour too long and so the plot that would normally be captivating just leaves you wondering if you're missing something because they're taking a long time to get a simple message across. The message is to be kind to the earth, be aware of how humans impact the world around them. I'd recommend this film if you've seen all of the other Studio Ghibli films and you're craving more. I'd warn against showing it to kids who are sensitive to animals being hurt, (some racoons get hit by cars) there is also a big scene where the racoons transform into scary spirits in an attempt to spook the humans and stop them from developing the forest. Also - this warning is for parents - for some odd reason all of the male racoon's scrotums are drawn in and you can see them. it's odd and a little disturbing. Our kids didn't notice but others might and if you're not ready to answer questions about racoon male genitalia then you might want to skip this one for now.

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