Release Date(s)1994 (February 3, 2015)
Studio(s)Studio Ghibli (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C-
Pom Poko is anything but a conventional children’s story. It has much deeper origins in Japanese folklore and cultural traditions than many of the other Studio Ghibli works. It’s basically a fictional tale told by a narrator, yet with almost a nature documentary feel. Its story follows a clan of tanuki, or raccoons, who are being made to flee from their homes in the forest due to urban development. Being the magical creatures that they are, they can transform into nearly anything they want, including humans. They use their powers to try and prevent any further progress on the humans’ part from happening, hoping to frighten the humans until they go away. Soon enough, they realize that their methods aren’t successful and so they must come up with a way of not only surviving but attempting to save as much of their homeland as possible.
The themes of Pom Poko rest solely on the horrors of urban expansion, and its effects on all creatures, large and small. Yet on the other hand, it doesn’t rely on conventional storytelling. The film is loose and wild with its characters and its story, going in lots of different directions aesthetically. The anthropomorphic raccoons (or raccoon dogs as they are more commonly known) not only talk, watch TV, and change into different shapes and beings, but they also appear in different forms, depending upon the situation. When they’re seen by the humans, they look like raccoons normally look. When they’re doing very silly things, they look much more manga-ish in form. But when they’re amongst each other, they appear as raccoons akin to Disney creations to a certain degree (the non-inclusion of testicles, of course). It’s the kind of thing that U.S. animated filmmakers wouldn’t dare do for fear of confusing their audience. This film respects its audience’s intelligence, even when things are flying off the handle story-wise.
When all is said and done, Pom Poko is still a simple tale. It’s very easy to follow, funny, and heart-warming to a degree. I don’t see it as one of Studio Ghibli’s best works, but it’s an undeniably great film, unlike anything else they’ve produced. Yet somehow, it’s also exactly the kind of film Ghibli would produce.
Disney’s Blu-ray presentation of Pom Poko features another fantastic high definition transfer. Disney’s aggressive clean-up habits are nowhere to be found on this release, something that Studio Ghibli was careful to guard against, I’m sure. There is a very thin layer of grain to be seen, allowing for some strong visual detail. The color palette is reproduced quite well. Blacks are deep and contrast is at an acceptable level. There are next to no film defects left behind, and there are also no signs of unnecessary digital tweaking. It’s a rock solid transfer of material that looks to have been in excellent condition to start with. For the audio, you get three options: English or Japanese 2.0 DTS-HD and French 2.0 Dolby Digital. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and both the sound effects and the musical score fill out the proceedings beautifully. There’s no 5.1 option, but then Japanese animated films haven’t traditionally had 5.1 until very recently. Disney and Studio Ghibli have chosen to offer the audio as it was theatrically presented, so I’m very satisfied with the soundtrack. The disc includes two English subtitle tracks and French subtitles. Thankfully, neither English track is a transcript of the dubbed audio, which isn’t terrible but isn’t good either. Both subtitles appear to be straight English translations of the original Japanese audio, one with captions for those who might need them. Disney’s better handling of these subtitles will be much appreciated by Ghibli fans.
The extra material for this release boils down to the Blu-ray carrying over the features found on the original U.S. DVD release of the film. These include the original Japanese storyboards (with optional subtitles), plus Japanese theatrical trailers and TV spots. Also included is a DVD copy of the film. (Ghibli’s original Japanese Blu-ray also included the film's screenplay and video of a 14-minute stage performance, both in Japanese only, which aren’t here for obvious reasons.)
Like the other new Studio Ghibli titles released by Disney on Blu-ray, Pom Poko is light on extras but it excels in the A/V department. It’s a fine film that American Ghibli fans have been waiting for on Blu-ray a long time. If you’re one of them, this release is recommended. On the other hand, if you’re new to Ghibli animated films, this one is definitely worth your time but you might want to start with something like Porco Rosso first (also newly available on Blu-ray and reviewed here).
- Tim Salmons