Director: Isao Takahata
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata
As a new human development encroaches upon their forest, the raccoon dogs of Tama Hills decide to renew the ancient art of shape-shifting in order to save their home.
The works of Studio Ghibli have often engaged with the theme of human development and the need to preserve the natural habitats of wildlife. Pom Poko, however, stands apart from other films the studio has made in its somewhat more lighthearted portrayal of events; the raccoon dogs of Tama Hills are such a happy-go-lucky lot, fond of food and parties, that no setbacks in their master plan to save their home can make them downcast for long. Watching the raccoon dogs constantly celebrate victories prematurely is sometimes bittersweet (we the audience know much more about humans and their implacable desire for development), but their joy of life is ultimately contagious. Even as we watch Tama Hills undergo radical changes, we somehow have to believe with the raccoon dogs that things will work out.
Half the hilarity of the film comes not from the constant partying, however, but from the thought processes of the raccoon dogs. They believe their ancient art form of transformation will enable them to learn about humans and to scare them away from the new development. This results in ludicrous portrayals of humans and imaginative portrayals of ancient deities, monsters, and more. What the raccoon dogs find believable or scary, however, does not always translate well to humans and that disconnect can result in ridiculous scenarios. Still, as always,the amusing mixes with the somber; each failed attempt by the raccoon dogs means more destruction of their homes.
To its credit, the film provides no easy answers. Humans, after all, will always continue to develop and the animals will always have to find a way to adapt or perish. A serious undertone pervades even the most lighthearted of moments, such as when we watch the raccoon dogs court but know that they will have no way to provide for their new babies. Still, somehow, we always, like the raccoon dogs have to have hope. Things may change, but the raccoon dogs teach us to try to keep going, while always remembering our obligation to help those around us.