Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko (Heisian Tanuki War Ponpoko, 1994) is Studio Ghibli's 8th film. It is the story of a rag-tag group of magical animals engaged in a desperate battle to prevent the destruction of their forest.
Directed by Isao Takahata, Pom Poko deftly fulfills Ghibli's dual missions of advocating for the environment and preserving traditional Japanese culture by presenting a cautionary environmental story and a raucous exploration of Japanese folklore all wrapped up a bittersweet tale of the costs of urban sprawl told from perspective of the displaced animals.
The Tanuki, known as the "raccoon dog" in English (which is not related to the North American Raccoon, as much as it might resemble one), occupies a very important place in Japanese traditional and popular culture. Pom Poko takes full advantage of this by working in just about every Tanuki reference available from fairy tales, folklore and even nursery rhymes. Needless to say, most of these references are lost on non-Japanese audience. Unfortunately, as Takahata's partner Hayao Miyazaki has been known to lament, nowadays many of these things are lost on the increasingly urbanized Japanese as well.
Well noted for the scene where defiant tanuki use one of their most prominent fairy tale features (their extraordinarily large testicles) as clubs to attack the police. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the art is incredible, seeing as it's a Studio Ghibli film.
'Ponpoko' is a reference to the sound the tanuki of legend were supposed to make using their bellies as drums.
- All Men Are Perverts: Zigzagged. When the Tanukis' self-imposed restriction on breeding first goes into effect, the females literally have to beat the males away. When the next mating season comes around, however, they cheerfully chuck the rules along with the guys.
- All Part of the Show: An uinintentional version. To try and frighten the humans out of New Tama, the tanuki enact "Operation Specter", a massive parade of youkai and monsters. However, it merely amazes the humans, and a nearby amusement park takes credit for the show as a publicity stunt.
- Anthropomorphic Animal (see below)
- Animals Lack Attributes: Averted. MAGICAL. TANUKI. TESTICLES.
- Anthropomorphic Transformation: The tanuki shift from realistic to anthropomorphic to cartoonish and back again as the story requires.
- Art Shift: Befitting their magical nature, the tanuki gain one of two non-standard, minimalistic, cartoonishly-drawn designs depending on whenever they either feel happy and festive, or meek and submissive respectively.
- Bittersweet Ending: The tanuki's home is destroyed, save for a few parks and preserves, and those who can transform are forced to join the human world, abandoning those who can't. However, their fun-loving, easy going spirits survive. The end of the movie finds them dancing and singing joyfully in a grassy field. . .the camera cranes back to reveal that it's a golf course.
- Bowdlerise: Japanese culture (even children's songs) is full of earthy references to the Tanuki's most outstanding anatomical feature—unusually large testicles. Not surprisingly, Disney changed "scrotum" to "pouch" for the English dub — but not the subtitles on the dvd version. On the Blu-Ray version, they don't use Japanese translated subtitles. Whether or not they fooled anyone is unclear. (Actually, given all the sight gags on that topic, the real surprise is that Disney did the release at all.)
- With Ghibli films at least Disney tends to bow down to the sub watchers with the subtitles. The subtitles match the original dialogue closer, on average, than the dub.
- Part of Disney's contract with Studio Ghibli was that they wouldn't edit any of the studio's films. This after the terrible fate of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at the hands of New World Video. So, Disney released Pom Poko unedited and hoped that nobody would notice.note
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: A rare serious example, at the end of the movie, to ask the viewers to protect the tanukis, the foxes and all the non-transforming animals.
- Cultural Translation: Largely averted, aside from the bowdlerisation noted above and the mis-translation of "Tanuki" as "Raccoon" for North American audiences. Other Japanese cultural references are either explained or ignored.
- Faux Documentary: The movie is presented in this format with the narrator being a tanuki who has assimilated into a human lifestyle, though this only becomes apparent in the epilogue.
- Funny Background Event: Behind the two elderly dudes drinking all the ghostly parade through without noticing (bordering on Unusually Uninteresting Sight / Weirdness Censor)
- Gag Penis: Sort of. The Tanuki's traditional distinguishing feature is played for laughs throughout the movie.
- Ghibli Hills: Massively subverted as this film depicts the destruction of the Ghibli Hills by developers.
- Groin Attack: As in, the groin attacks you. Of course, some riot police officers are shown trying to beat away the tanukis' massive nads with their clubs as the latter attempt to smother them under.
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: In their Funny Animal form, many tanuki wear a shirt, vest or cape, but no pants - so that their scrotums are uncovered.
- Hot-Blooded: Whenever Gonta appears on-screen, expect him to bring some ham to the scene.
- Humans Are Bastards: Subverted: The humans aren't evil, they just need the room, and when the Tanuki finally reveal themselves to the media, humanity proves to be willing to some degree of compromise, if only because people like to live among green spaces too.
- But there's also the owner of that amusement park that sabotaged Project Spectre by saying it had been his doing as a publicity stunt, thereby breaking the tanuki's morale.
- Humanity Ensues: The shape-changing tanuki eventually give up and start living as humans themselves, just as the foxes did before them.
- It Can't Be Helped: The tanuki have to "accept the unacceptable" and conform to humans' encroachment on their territory. Some turn into humans and adapt, others weather on as tanuki, but their golden days will never come back.
- Kick the Dog:
- Many of the Tanuki celebrate after Gonta's resistance brings the deaths and injuries of three humans. The elders' calling them out with a What the Hell, Hero? gets mostly drowned out.
- The ex-leader of the Blue group is implied by the epilogue to have taken up real estate in his human form and had already sold some of the Tanuki territory by the ending.
- Kitsune: Though they aren't as prominent as the tanuki, several kitsune do show up. Unlike the tanuki, they've all gone into hiding and are living as humans.
- Lamp Shade Hanging: The Tanuki constantly reference the songs, stories, and nursery rhymes about them.
- Mood Whiplash: In the climax, images of mass Tanuki genocide are cross-cut with wacky ball gags.
- No Sex Allowed: The Tanuki invoke a temporary case of this in order to keep their numbers small and protect their dwindling food supply. It works for a while.
- Public Domain Character: Kincho, Hage and Gyobu, the trio of venerable elders, are all characters from ancient legends. Danzaburou is also mentioned and sought after, but it's revealed near the end that he had been shot dead by a hunter shortly after WWII.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The impulsive and aggressive Gonta wears red clothes, contrasting with the calmer Seizaemon, who wears blue-ish ones.
- Refuge in Audacity: When some of the Tanuki decide to go public on TV to plead their case to save their habitat. To the typical viewer (and the in-universe ones too), you will reflexively think this stunt will never happen as fantasy folk in these stories are never openly revealed and no one will believe they are seeing the real thing. However, after a moment's hesitation, the Tanuki find the courage to do the unthinkable and appear right on camera to make their address and, to a degree, it works!
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: The tanuki. Especially in their "intermediate" form, in which they look like teddy bears. So much so.
- Scarecrow Solution: To chase the humans away, the tanuki launch "Operation Specter", during which they shapeshift into ghosts, monsters and youkai and march on the streets to make the humans believe the place is haunted.
- Shout Out:
- Totoro, Kiki, Porco Rosso and Taeko all appear in the Tanuki's "Ghost Parade".
- During the "Ghost Parade" there is a brief foxes' wedding scene which is very similar to that seen in the "Sunshine through Rain" episode of Akira Kurosawa's Dreams.
- Also, in a scene where a group of Tanuki are trying to scare away a person from buying some property, they use the signature pose of the original Kamen Rider to transform.
- Slobs vs. Snobs: While tanuki and kitsune are shown to get along just fine, the dichotomy of this trope is still very clear; the former live in worn-down shrines in the countryside and scavenge for anything they can find, while the latter live luxuriously in the big city as a result of successfully blending in with human society.
- Stealth Pun: Female foxes in the forms of "foxy" (seductive) club hostesses.
- Super Sex Organs: The tanuki can distend their scrotums to fly, among other things. This is accurate to Japanese folklore about tanuki, where they use their scrotums for all kinds of things.
- Tanuki: This movie is all about them. There are plenty of references to fairy tales, songs and nursery rhymes about tanuki throughout the film.
- Toilet Humour: In a scene where the old Tsurugame is talking to the huge and loud tanuki crowd, one of them accidentally and quite hilariously rips a gigantic fart.
- The Unmasqued World: Some of the tanuki go public to plead their case to save their habitat. It's effective to a degree.
- War Hawk: Gonta's proposal for every meeting always involves going to war with the humans tearing the tanukis' home apart.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Kiyo and Shokichi's cubs. We're treated to an adorable montage of their parents lovingly raising them, and then come fall, they're never mentioned again.
- Women Are Wiser: Oroku, the oldest female tanuki, is frequently the voice of reason among the characters, and she's also the one responsible for teaching the younger tanuki how to transform.