Region 2 (UK) Edition  -  Reviewed by Andy Davidson

Director:  Isao Takahata

Featuring the voices of Clancy Brown, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Olivia D’Abo


Studio Ghibli’s reputation for producing high quality films with a unique appeal to the whole family is well deserved. Originally known as Heisei Tanuki Gassen PomPoko in its native Japan, 1994’s Pom Poko is the latest masterpiece from Studio Ghibli to be shared with British audiences.

The Tanuki have, since ancient times, lived happily in rural Japan. Mischievous and playful, they are creatures of legend in their home country – blessed with magical powers and depicted on statues throughout Japan. But their way of life is being threatened by ever-increasing urban sprawl. The film opens with a group of Tanuki playing in an abandoned house, when suddenly a digger comes crashing through the building, demolishing it.

It is clear to the Tanuki that they are running out of places to live and soon rival factions begin fighting amongst themselves, before eventually realising that only by fighting the humans together can they hope to regain their ancient territory.

So begins a war between Tanuki and mankind. It’s not quite as one-sided a battle as it might at first seem. The Tanukis’ ancient powers include the ability to magically transform themselves to resemble humans. Doing so enables them to infiltrate the construction, but it is an exhausting process. Later, the Tanuki turn to violence to try and win back their land, resulting in a number of workmen being killed.

When violence fails, the Tanuki try to scare the humans away in a series of amusing and surreal stunts before the inevitable realisation that mankind simply cannot be stopped. The only way for the Tanuki to survive is to find a way of co-existing with man.

Written and directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbours the Yamadas), Pom Poko is at once typical of Ghibli’s other works but boasts more adult-oriented themes, presented in such a sensitive way as to be appealing to all.

Pom Poko is of course an environmental film; but one that deals with xenophobia, murder and death in several forms but without ever resorting to sensationalism. The tone of the film, while overtly humorous, is at the same time meditative and philosophical. We know from the outset that the Tanuki are destined to fail but there is a joy and strange humanity in their struggle. Their spirit is never diminished and their antics are consistently amusing. One element of the film which may seem strange to Western audiences is the seat of the Tanukis’ power: magic testicles. While such a conceit may be difficult for those of us not familiar with Japanese mythology, the Tanuki (who are, in fact, real creatures) do indeed possess such powers according to legend.

The sexual potency, then, combined with the oddly high (for a Ghibli film) body count make this a film which I wouldn’t show to younger audiences. However, for those of us who are young at heart it is a truly wonderful film – funny yet deeply melancholy and while the pace is somewhat slow and the running time rather long at a shade under two hours, it is a thoroughly absorbing tale of man, beast and unfeasibly large testicles.


Pom Poko is presented as a single disc release. Optimum appear to treat the film with the same reverence as those who know and love the work of Studio Ghibli. While the extras package isn’t exhaustive, the disc contains some extremely worthwhile treats for fans new and old.

The film is presented, slightly windowboxed, in 1.83:1 aspect ratio (here with anamorphic enhancement) in a print which appears to have undergone some restoration. Colours are rich and well-presented while overall the picture does appear somewhat on the lighter side.

The film can be viewed in its original Japanese, with English subtitles and optional captions for the hard of hearing. There is also a new dub, produced by Disney for the recent US DVD release and featuring the voices of Clancy Brown, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Olivia D’Abo. Typically of Disney’s treatment of Ghibli’s films, the dub is generally of an exceptionally high quality.

All audio presentations are in Dolby 2.0

The English subtitles and captions are not handled particularly well, appearing in garish yellow over the picture itself.

The disc opens with Optimum’s ident for their release of The Studio Ghibli Collection; an impressive, understated opening.

The opening menu screens feature a static image of the Tanuki, gazing down on the construction site below, accompanied by some of the extremely catchy and charming music from the film.


Original Trailers (8m)
Four original trailers for Pom Poko are included along with the welcome addition of subtitles for the Japanese text and language. Purists may be annoyed to discover, however, that the subtitles cannot be switched off.

Storyboards (118m)
The entire film can be viewed in storyboard form. Pressing the “Angle” button on your remote switches between the animated movie and the original storyboards; an extremely valuable extra for fans of animation and a welcome opportunity to view the beautiful artwork behind the film in its original raw form.

Howl’s Moving Castle Trailer (1m 36s)
The trailer for the US theatrical release of the latest Ghibli masterpiece is included, complete with implausibly deep-voiced narrator. To be honest, this is a somewhat jarring experience and I would have preferred the far more sensitive Japanese trailer.

Studio Ghibli Collection Trailer (10m 45s)
Optimum plan to continue their series of Ghibli releases and present here a selection of trailers for other films in the series. The quality of these trailers is less pleasing than the rest of the content on the disc; they appear washed out and lack the detail of the other trailers and the film itself. They are, however, a welcome addition and will hopefully inspire viewers to seek out other entries in the Ghibli canon as they become available.


Pom Poko is not typical of Ghibli’s other output. While the ecological theme is a familiar one, seeing the action from the animals’ perspective makes for an interesting experience. The sexuality of the animals and their attitude to violence and death make the film unsuitable for very young audiences but as with all Takahata’s film, this is a touching and rewarding experience.

Optimum have produced an excellent release of a classic Japanese Anime. The film looks wonderful and while the extras package may not look exhaustive, Optimum should be congratulated for including the complete storyboard of the film from the Japanese Region 2 release.

Related reviews:

The Studio Ghibli Collection

Laputa - Castle in the Sky

Kiki's Delivery Service

My Neighbour Totoro

Pom Poko

Porco Rosso

DVD reviewed: February 2006





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