Comical raccoons in a nostalgic tale…
Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko) follows the adventures of a group of tanuki, as they attempt to stop mankind destroying their forest during the Tokyo building spree of the 1960s. Technically belonging to the dog family, these critters strongly resemble the common raccoons found in Central and North America, hence the English translation of tanuki as “raccoon dogs”.
Taking place from Years 30-33 of the Pom Poko Era in the tanuki calendar, these magical creatures revive the ancient art of transformation to try and scare, bully, push and even kill the human intruders who threaten their homes. While it sounds like The Raccoons some may remember from TV, these animals aren’t simply facing off against comedy bad guy Cyril Sneer, they’re locked in a life or death struggle for their species. As such, Grave Of The Fireflies director Isao Takahata’s film – with scriptwork by Hayao Miyazaki – mixes slapstick and darker moments, as it gently blasts Japan’s urbanisation of previously rural areas.
Released on Dual Format (DVD and Blu-ray) for the first time in the UK, the image shines on high definition, while the 2.0 stereo sound is enchanting. The way to get the best out of many anime releases is to rely on the subtitles and revel in the work of the original Japanese cast. However, those translated words can’t match the expressive power of a voice cast that includes super dry narration from Maurice LaMarche, backed by feistier turns from Tress MacNeille (Mom from Futurama) and (the Kurgan himself) Clancy Brown.
Not as rousing as some Ghibli stories, the animation here is nevertheless well worth taking in. Those enrapturing transformations are the real reason to watch – they’re sort of like the liquid metal T-1000 in Terminator 2, if his repertoire stretched to spooks and dragons. Their powers also help liven up their numerous celebrations; and boy do tanuki love to party.
Shame the bonus features are so lacklustre. The original Japanese trailers and the Studio Ghibli trailer reel (the latter shown oddly out of order, in a mix of Japanese and English) are the very basics you’d expect. However, while the picture-in-picture storyboards is interesting, we’d have liked to have heard from the voice cast, animators, director or co-writer Miyazaki himself.
Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko is released on Blu-ray Double Play by Studio Canal and is available to buy from today, 14 April 2014.