Photos: Pom Poko

Photos: Pom Poko

Pom Poko is visually dazzling, wildly surreal, intensely multi-layered, and masterfully weaves together mock documentary, comedy and drama all at once. It's the most colorful and inventive of Isao Takahata's movies. And, yet, it is arguably the least appreciated of all the Studio Ghibli movies in the West, and I've never fully understood why.

Pom Poko is a very Japanese movie, drenched to the bone in that nation's history and mythology. It probably helps to know some of the folk tales and children's songs to appreciate its depths. For Westerners, it may be too "inside baseball" for casual viewers to grok. You can't just pop in the videotape and veg out on the couch. This isn't another formulaic cartoon that you can enjoy while getting your digital methadone fix on your smartphones. Participation is required. Patience is required.

When this movie was finally released on DVD in the US, I imagined that it could become a cult classic, especially among animation fans. Heck, stoner fans should be gaga for Pom Poko. The only thing that Americans ever took away from it: balls. Huh-huh-heh-huh, heh-heh-huh-huh. They got balls.

Sometimes you want to listen to David Bowie or Lou Reed or Tom Waits while everybody else just wants to hear happy pop songs. Oh, well, it's alright. It's life and life only.

P.S. This screenshot shows one of my favorite gags from the movie. Back in the days of picture tube televisions, you sometimes had to give them a hard whack to make the picture come in. This joke is probably lost on a whole generation of kids by now. But it was a real thing that you had to do.

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