Pom Poko (review)

Studio Ghibli, the anime studio founded by groundbreaking filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, is famous for producing films that are extraordinarily imaginative and passionately heartfelt, like the recent Spirited Away. And this 1994 film from Ghibli is a stunning example of the depths of emotion and the heights of fancy animated film can achieve. Written and directed by Takahata, this glorious tale of the Raccoons of the Tama Hills, a wooded land near Tokyo, who conspire to preserve their forests from human urban development is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, an exploration of the clash between nature and civilization from a nonhuman perspective that neither completely denigrates the human restructuring of the natural world nor totally elevates traditional “environmental” concerns over the achievements of humanity. (The Raccoons adore tempura, for one, and realize they’d never get it again if they destroy the people!) The animation is luminous and beautiful, capturing the essence of animal playfulness even as it spills over into the magical — some raccoons can disguise themselves as humans but remain nevertheless particularly raccoony — and the film is often surprisingly frank about realities of the battle between humans and animals (as in depicting the damage a car can do to a critter scurrying across a busy road). Deeply affecting and visually mesmerizing, this is one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen. The discs offer both the original Japanese language track and a dubbed English track, and among the bonus materials is an entire second version of the film, told in rough, sketched storyboards — watching it is a dramatic lesson in the art of creating an animated film.

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