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Anime / Pom Poko

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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 the 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. Shoukichi makes a valiant effort to hold out, and it's actually Kiyo who can't keep her hands off him, resulting in the birth of their four cubs.
  • 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.
  • Asian Fox Spirit: 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.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Throughout the movie Gonta demands that he and his fellow tanuki be given permission in fighting the humans head on. In the climax they get that wish, but get utterly destroyed.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Female tanuki are this by default, all are highly rotund but even the older ones are quite adorable. They usually take a slimmer appearance if they take a human form.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The tanuki's home is destroyed, save for a few parks and preserves, a significant number of them have died, and the survivors who can transform are forced to join the human world, abandoning those who can't. However, their fun-loving, easy going spirits endure, and the humans are taking big steps to preserving the nature around them and help the tanuki. The end of the movie finds them dancing and singing joyfully in a grassy field, and 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 Pictures. 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.
  • Dub Species Change: As noted above, the English dub refers to the main characters as raccoons. They're actually raccoon dogs, which as the name implies look very similar to raccoons but aren't the same animal.
  • 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.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: Only male tanuki can use their...testicles to fly and as weapons, as befitting Japanese mythology. Justified for obvious reasons.
  • 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 owner of the amusement park sabotages Project Spectre by saying it had been his doing as a publicity stunt, thereby breaking the tanuki's morale, but other than this jerk move the humans aren't evil at all. 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.
  • Humanity Ensues: The shape-changing tanuki eventually give up and start living as humans themselves, just as the foxes did before them. They treat it as both a blessing and a curse.
  • 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ryotaro the kitsune is a sly, proud, and duplicitous guy; but he also sincerely sympathizes with the tanuki, offering the shapeshifters homes without any payment and is sincerely aggrieved he can't help the tanuki who can't transform.
  • 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.
  • Lamp Shade Hanging: The Tanuki constantly reference the songs, stories, and nursery rhymes about them.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The amusement park owner who took the credit for Project Specter by saying it was a publicity stunt ends up having all the money he earned from the trick stolen by the enraged tanuki.
  • Magical Counterfeiting: One young tanuki tasked with retrieving money from the human world tries passing a bunch of leaves off as money, the elders are not fooled.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the climax, images of mass Tanuki genocide are cross-cut with wacky ball gags.
  • Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: Operation: Specter is a display of illusory magic practiced by the Tanuki elders of Shikoku that simulates a ghostly parade of youkai and demons as part of a last ditch attempt to protect Tama Hills from human development. Since the humans of New Tama are not as superstitious as those in Shikoku, it winds up being confused for a festive piece of advertisement for a local theme-park company, made all the more insulting since one of the Elders wound up dying from the strain of it.
  • 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.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: While male tanuki are mostly naked (exposed "pouches" and everything) female tanuki wear shirts and other clothes to conceal their teats. Pants are still optional though.
  • Product Placement: When the three old masters ride a cab, they pass next to a car shop, then the image shifts towards the building revealing the logos of three German car makers on its wall: Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW.
  • 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:
    • To Ocean Waves of all things, especially considering its status as an oddball in the Ghibli catalog: in a scene where the disguised Tanuki are doing a field test of their transformation, there's a poster for the film in the window of a convenience store, prominently displaying Rikako.
    • 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.
    • The Tanuki-as-Samurai battle that begins the film is loaded with references to numerous samurai films of both the famous classics (The Seven Samurai for instance) and ones that are obscure outside of Japan.
  • 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.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Shoukichi's tail goes up moments before he and Kiyo drop out of sight and get to work conceiving their cubs.
  • 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.
  • Tanuki/Kitsune Contrast: While the tanuki suffer from human encroachment on their habitat, the kitsune have assimilated into the city.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The elders' reactions when they see the younger tanuki celebrating their 'success' in causing the horrific deaths of several humans.
  • What the Romans Have Done for Us: When Gonta states his intentions to kill every human in Tama Hills, in addition to Shoukichi pointing out he doesn't think humans are bad, several other Tanuki point out they wouldn't be able to access human food and the tools needed to makes it. Gonta begrudgingly relents at this observation.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Operation: Specter

Operation: Specter is a display of illusory magic practiced by the Tanuki elders of Shikoku that simulates a ghostly parade of youkai and demons as part of a last ditch attempt to protect Tama Hills from human development. Since the humans of New Tama are not as superstitious as those in Shinkoku, it winds up being confused for a festive piece of advertisement for a local theme-park company, made all the more insulting since one of the Elders wound up dying from the strain of it.

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Example of:

Main / NightParadeOfOneHundredDemons

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