Most people that watch animation films have heard of the Studio Ghibli movies. With the 2001 award-winning movie Spiritied Away being one of the most famous creations to come out of the studio. Genius animator Hayao Miyazaki’s creation has become a cult classic over the years.
An article in Indie Wire caught my attention today with a celebratory headline for the filmmaker. A documentary on his career capturing both his work and personal life is available to watch online free:
This article prompted me to think about the animation that I’ve seen over the years. So much has been written about Spirited Away and rightly so. Wonder full, weird and wacky. Once seen, never forgotten. But that is not the movie I want to talk about today.
Studio Ghibli movies are many, in fact there are at least 18 – 19 full length movies. Not all are created by Hayao Miyazaki. The number one Japanese movie in 1994 was filmmaker Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko. It won Best Animation Film at the Mainichi Film Awards and I think this underrated Ghibli Studio movie deserves a mention here.
Young singing voices open up the movie and children are singing to a little raccoon nibbling on the grass. Asking Mr Racoon to play, he tells the children no as he’s having dinner. They say, “Can you give me some?” and he looks up and tells them not to be a greedy bum and get your own!
Bulldozing The Dream
A female raccoon starts to tell the story of when the raccoons lived near a farmhouse. It was a dream-like existence as they had plenty of food to eat in the fields nearby. One day the humans went away and never came back. They decided to move in and that year was wonderful for them. Raccoons hung out and played in and on the house. They munched on persimmons and all kinds of fruits and the narrator exclaims, “A house with a garden, it was a dream!”.
But then something happened. Bulldozing into the side of the house, all the raccoons ran like the clappers to avoid being killed as the house was demolished by the crane.
Territory And Fighting
After that food was a scarcity and two raccoons are seen pulling a worm between them to eat. Fighting over territory to survive became inevitable between the them. Angry and annoyed that their situation they stand on a hill top staring down sternly where the house and fields were. Bulldozers and cranes have started to rip down forests and clear the way for houses and shops.
Then a huge battle between two groups of raccoons changes everything. Running towards each other on all fours as soon as they are about to be face to face they stand up on two legs. Now, fighting with sticks and wearing bandannas a narrator informs us that when humans are not around raccoons do stand and walk on two legs.
Not Really Raccoons
The raccoons are not really raccoons. Originating from Japanese myth and folklore the raccoonesque creatures are called Tanuki.
It is a fierce but short-lived battle as Granny Oroku arrives banging on her drum to knock some sense into them. Singing, “Taka win. Suza win. You both lose!” she urges them to look around. Desolate land and nothing left for any of them, the Tanuki are shocked. Granny tells them it is insane to be fighting against each other
(Side-note: Demand for housing near Tokyo in the 1960s meant deforesting and demolition of old buildings to pave the way for new housing estates.)
Humans And TV
The Tanuki realise what Granny’s wise words mean and they meet to discuss their future. Planning to stop development they decide they will have to give up their nocturnal life and be ready for action in the day. First, they will study the human. Secondly, they will revive the ancient art of transformation.
They retrieve an old TV from the dump to watch as they believe this is the best way to collect in-depth information about humans. Watching the news, cooking programs and wrestling the TV set becomes hugely popular with the Tanuka.
The younger raccoons are nominated to study the ancient form of transformation. Requiring extreme physical and mental strength, this is why they have the black rings round their eyes like raccoons. They’re exhausted all the time from shape-shifting 😂
Granny tells the youngsters that chameleons use mimicry and are less skilled. But it is only raccoons (the Tanuki), foxes and a few cats that can transform themselves, advising them, “It’s easy once you get the hang of it!”.
Muttering quietly, “At least in theory,” Granny says as she walks away to demonstrate. They all stare in awe as she prepares. She jumps high in the air and lands on the ground transformed into a big steel pot. They all clap and begin training.
Extreme Discipline Of Mind And Body
One of the youngsters explains his long time fascination with humans. He always got too close to them even though he shouldn’t but his father let him anyway. He believed his father knew it would come in handy for his future.
The key to transformation is detailed knowledge of the humans he surmises. He then jumps up and turns into a man!
The young Tanuki learn to discipline their mind and body and then they proceed to go amongst the humans to stop the development of the land.
As much as this is an animation, there are some parts that are not suitable for children. Referring to their testicles as part of the transformation, no detail as it would be a spoiler. And some bloody scenes.
Apparently Pom Poko is when the Tanuka drum their bellies as a form of Tanuki-bayashi.
Quote from Wikipedia: Tanuki-bayashi is a strange phenomenon of sound, told about in legends across Japan. In the middle of night, they are musical sounds like flutes or drums heard out of nowhere.
It may not be a masterpiece like Spirited Away…but these magical little critters are still worth a watch.