Region 2 (UK) Edition - Reviewed by Andy Davidson
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Studio Ghibli Collection
Laputa - Castle in the
DVD reviewed: February 2006