Overview

Pom Poko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ, Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko?, lit. "Heisei-era Raccoon Dog War Pom Poko", also known as The Raccoon War) is a 1994 Japanese animated comedy-drama film by Studio Ghibli. It is the eighth written and directed by Isao Takahata.

Plot

The story begins in late 1960s Japan. A group of tanuki are threatened by a gigantic suburban development project called New Tama, in the Tama Hills on the outskirts of Tokyo. The development is cutting into their forest habitat and dividing their land. The story resumes in early 1990s Japan, during the early years of the Heisei era. With limited living space and food decreasing every year, the tanuki begin fighting among themselves for the diminishing resources, but at the urging of the matriarch Oroku, they decide to unify to stop the development.

Several tanuki lead the resistance, including the aggressive chief Gonta, the old guru Seizaemon, the wise-woman Oroku, and the young and resourceful Shoukichi. Using their illusion skills (which they must re-learn after having forgotten them), they stage a number of diversions including industrial sabotage. These attacks injure and even kill people, frightening construction workers into quitting, but more workers immediately replace them. In desperation, the tanuki send out messengers to seek help from various legendary elders from other regions.

After several years, one of the messengers returns bringing a trio of elders from the distant island of Shikoku, where development is not a problem and the tanuki are still worshipped. In an effort at re-establishing respect for the supernatural, the group stages a massive "ghost parade" to make the humans think the town is haunted. The strain of the massive illusion kills one of the elders and his spirit is lifted up in a raigō, and the effort seems wasted when the owner of a nearby theme park takes credit for the parade, claiming it was a publicity stunt.

With this setback, the unity of the tanuki finally fails and they break up into smaller groups, each following a different strategy. One group led by Gonta takes the route of eco-terrorism, holding off workers until they are wiped out in a pitched battle with the police. Another group desperately attempts to gain media attention through television appearances to plead their case against the habitat's destruction. One of the elders becomes senile and starts a Buddhist dancing cult among the tanuki who are unable to transform, eventually sailing away with them in a ship that takes them to their deaths, while the other elder investigates joining the human world as the last of the transforming kitsune (foxes) have already done.

When all else fails, in a last act of defiance, the remaining tanuki stage a grand illusion, temporarily transforming the urbanized land back into its pristine state to remind everyone of what has been lost. Finally, with their strength exhausted, the tanuki most trained in illusion follow the example of the kitsune: they blend into human society one by one, abandoning those who cannot transform. While the media appeal comes too late to stop the construction, the public responds sympathetically to the tanuki, pushing the developers to set aside some areas as parks. However, the parks are too small to accommodate all the non-transforming tanuki. Some try to survive there, dodging traffic to rummage through human scraps for food, while others disperse farther out to the countryside to compete with the tanuki who are already there.

One day, Shoukichi, who also joined the human world, is coming home from work when he sees a non-transformed tanuki leaping into a gap in a wall. Shoukichi crawls into the gap and follows the path, which leads to a grassy clearing where some of his former companions are gathering. He joyfully transforms back into a tanuki to join them. Shoukichi's friend, Ponkichi addresses the viewer, asking humans to be more considerate of tanuki and other animals less endowed with transformation skills, and not to destroy their living space; as the view pulls out and away, their surroundings are revealed as a golf course within a suburban sprawl.

Voice cast

Role Japanese English
Narrator Kokontei Shincho Maurice LaMarche
Shoukichi Makoto Nonomura Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Okiyo Yuriko Ishida Jillian Bowen
Seizaemon Norihei Miki J.K. Simmons
Fireball Oroku Nijiko Kiyokawa Tress MacNeille
Gonta Shigeru Izumiya Clancy Brown
Inugami Gyobu Gannosuke Ashiya Jess Harnell
Bunta/Wonderland President Takehiro Murata Kevin Michael Richardson
Kincho/Yashimano Hage Beicho Katsura Brian George
Abbot Tsurugame Kosan Yanagiya
Tamasaburo Akira Kamiya Wally Kurth
Sasuke Megumi Hayashibara Marc Dontana
Ryutaro Akira Fukuzawa John DiMaggio
Osho Kosan Yanagiya Andre Stojka
Hayashi Osamu Kato Brian Posehn
Koharu Yorie Yamashita Olivia d'Abo
Ponkichi Hayashiya Shōzō IX David Oliver Cohen
Otama Yumi Kuroda Russi Taylor
Reporter/News Anchor Mark Moseley

Japanese cultural references

The film plays heavily upon Japanese folklore, and many references will be lost on people who are not familiar with the details. Here are some basic facts which may help you find the film less baffling.

  • Tanuki in Japanese folklore are mischievous, lazy, cheerful and gullible creatures who use their supernatural shape-shifting powers to trick humans. It is often said that a Tanuki would put a leaf on top of their head and chant in order to change its form into anything (for example, a monk). They are also said to try to con humans with leaves turned into banknotes, although Oroku prohibits them from doing Cthis in the film.
  • Statues of tanuki can be seen everywhere in Japan, especially in temples and shrines, and often holding a barrel of sake.

Consistent with Japanese folklore, the Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs, Nyctereutes procyonoides) are portrayed as a highly sociable, mischievous species, able to use "illusion science" to transform into almost anything, but too fun-loving and too fond of tasty treats to be a real threat (unlike the kitsune and other shapeshifters). Visually, the Tanuki in this film are depicted in three ways at various times: as realistic animals, as anthropomorphic animals which occasionally wear clothes, and as cartoony figures based on the manga of Shigeru Sugiura (of whom Takahata is a great fan). They tend to assume their realistic form when in view of humans, their cartoony form when they're doing something outlandish or whimsical, and their anthropomorphic form at all other times.


  • In Japanese folklore, foxes are also supernatural creatures (known as kitsune) with the ability to transform themselves into a human form. However, in contrast to the absent-minded tanuki, kitsune are usually portrayed as more witty, cunning and sometimes malicious. Kitsune are also messengers of (or sometimes a depiction of) Inari, the Shinto god of rice. In the film, a tanuki manages to terrify the humans planning to move a shrine by appearing as a white fox. Statues of kitsune mark the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 outdoor Inari shrines scattered throughout Japan.
  • The stone statues which the Tanukis turn into are those of Jizō, the protective deity of travellers, people condemned to Hell, and the souls of stillborn, miscarried, and aborted fetuses. The roadside statues are a common sight in Japan.
  • Most of the characters in the monster parade are Yōkai, creatures from Japanese folklore. However, some of the characters from other Ghibli films make cameos, including Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service, Taeko from Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso from Porco Rosso, and Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro. Among the yōkai references in the film include a retelling of a story called The Mujina of the Akasaka Road which features a noppera-bō, a woman with no face. There is also a tribute to the director Akira Kurosawa with a brief appearance of a foxes' wedding very similar to that which occurs in the Sunshine through Rain episode of his film Dreams.
  • The songs which appear in the film are Japanese children's songs, with some change in lyrics for effect. Some of them are repeated with different lyrics over the course of the film. Some of them are known as warabe uta, songs which are sung as part of traditional children's games, often with lyrics incomprehensible to modern Japanese. (The melancholic electronic melodies which many Japanese pedestrian crossings play, a short clip of which appears in the film, is a famous warabe-uta.) Among the songs which appear include:

o Shojo-ji no tanuki-bayashi ("The tanuki party at Shojo-ji temple"), a popular song written in the 1920s based on a traditional Japanese fairytale.  o Anta gata doko sa ("Where is your home?") - a traditional warabe uta sung by children while bouncing a ball. 


  • In keeping with Japanese folklore, the original Japanese version of Pom Poko made numerous references to raccoon testicles in song, conversation and in relation to transformation. All of these references were removed from the English dub, but are included in full on the English language subtitle track of the DVD.
  • "Ponpoko" is a word for the sound of tanuki tsutsumi (tanuki drum): According to Japanese legends, a tanuki would inflate its belly and beat upon it with its paws to scare wayfarers: pon poko pon poko pon.
  • Real tanuki are sighted in urban areas more often in recent years. This is blamed mainly on the destruction of their natural forest habitat by development projects like the one shown on this film.
  • Tama Hills is a vast area of gentle hills spanning two prefectures and many towns and cities on the southwestern flank of Tokyo. Most of it is a patchwork of modern suburbia and hilly forests. Tama New Town, where the film is set, is a real residential development project (Japan's largest) built in several phases starting in the 1960s, spanning the cities of Tama, Machida, Inagi and Hachiōji (which are all part of Tokyo.) Another Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart, is set at the same location and shares some of the same environmentalist undertones (although environmentalism is not its main theme).
  • The train station which appears in the film is Seiseki-Sakuragaoka Station on the Keiō Line, in Tama City, Tokyo.

Easter Eggs

  • During the scene where the tanuki are performing the first field test of their abilities, they pass by a bookstore: in the window of this bookstore is a poster for Ocean Waves, prominently displaying Rikako.
  • The Operation Specter sequence includes a number of cameos from other Ghibli characters:
    • Porco Rosso's red plane
    • Kiki on her broom
    • Totoro flying on his top while holding Mr. Kusakabe's umbrella
    • Taeko from Only Yesterday swimming through the air

Release

  • 16 July 1994 - Movie theater in Japan
  • Christmas 1994 - English dub
  • January 1995 - VHS release
  • September 2000 - VHS release
  • 2005 - Release by Disney
  • 2015 - Newer DVD by Disney
  • 2018 - Blu-ray release
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