Omohide Poro Poro is, with all due reverence to the great Yuri Norstein, the greatest animation film I have ever seen. It represents the peak of everything Isao Takahata hoped to achieve, in terms of content, in terms of form and structure, in terms of sheer beauty and naturalism.
Isao Takahata's films, as a whole, are a complete repudiation of the American animation codified by the Walt Disney studio, introducing psychological complexity, documentary neo-realism and naturalism, elements of tragedy, drama and comedy, a wide variety of visual styles, and strong influences from masters of world cinema. His movies display a wide variety of visual styles, and his free-roaming camera predates the age of CGI by decades.
Most of all, his stories are deeply human. Omohide Poro Poro is one of the great stories about a person's life, about quietly disenchanted woman who begins to reexamine herself, her place in life, all while being relentlessly shadowed by the ghosts of her childhood. It is a story of the inner child that speaks to us.
I don't think most Americans, or most Westerners for that matter, are aware that animation is even capable of dealing with such themes. Many of you probably won't believe until you see with your own eyes, until you're moved to tears by its graceful beauty. Good Lord, I know this person. I know this woman. This is me.
Omohide Poro Poro translates as "memories of falling teardrops," which is a wonderfully poetic title reminiscent of Ozu. Ozu, painted in watercolor. The scenes in 1982, when the movie is set, is painted with astonishing detail; Taeko-chan's childhood scenes, set in the 1960's, are contrasted with warm colors and faded details. No other picture captures so perfectly the idea of memories. Some events in our lives are sketchy, and we remember only the essence. Other moments sear in our minds with perfect detail; we remember everything.
Takahata adapted this film from a comic of the same name, in which the author recounted events from her childhood. Most of the flashback scenes are brought to the screen, and they run parallel to the adult Taeko as she takes a vacation in the Japanese countryside, working on an organic farm with in-laws. The film is at once tremendously funny, deeply insightful, poignant, tragic, always moving. Bring the Kleenex. You will cry or you have no soul.
There are so many things I could point out, from Yoshifumi Kondo's character design, to the musical score which spans from 60's pop to Hungarian folk music. I'll simply highlight my favorite scene, the sunrise in the safflower fields. It is a sunrise that arises slowly, steadily, over the endless hills, the yellow flowers, the bees, glowing with the Romanian choral music that sweels. The light breaks over the mountains, and we pause, reflect, give thanks. It is one of the greatest treasures of the cinema.