Saturday, May 18, 2013

Revenge of the Raccoons


I watched the most peculiar movie yesterday. As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio behind Hayao Miyazaki movies like "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro." Well, one of the TV channels here recently aired a bunch of the Studio Ghibli films, and I recorded several I'd never seen. Yesterday I watched "Pom Poko."

A hallmark of Studio Ghibli, and particularly Miyazaki, is a reverence for the past. The movies seldom depict plastic and video games and modern technology, and never favorably. Instead they're inhabited by magical characters and creatures from Japanese folk tales, often in forest or agrarian settings. As a result, they can seem a little strange to those of us with a Western sensibility and no familiarity with Japanese mythology.

"Pom Poko," directed not by Miyazaki but by Isao Takahata, is a cautionary tale about preserving the wilderness. The main characters are raccoons (or more specifically, raccoon dogs, the creatures being surreptitiously turned into clothing in China). The gist of the story is that suburban development in Tokyo is paving all the forests where animals like the raccoons live. So they decide to do what they can to fight back against human intrusion.

Some of the raccoons can shape-shift, and present themselves as other animals or monsters or even humans. Shape-shifting takes a lot of energy, so they fuel themselves with high-energy foods. There's a humorous scene in the movie where two raccoons pretending to be human spot each other while guzzling energy drinks. (Now I understand why some people drink that stuff.)

I can't even begin to describe the strangeness of the scene where male raccoons fly into battle. Each one pulls his scrotum over his head and uses it first as a parachute, and then as a weapon. I am not making this up. (I was going to post a video so you could watch, but of course someone's already done that.)

Yes, it is all deeply odd, yet beautiful and touching in the end -- a film about a culture mourning its past and its connection to the earth. I hesitate to recommend it, because it is not everyone's cup of tea. But I found it fascinating and kind of mind-blowing.

(Photo: Cell-phone charms (I think?) for sale at the Portobello Road market.)

8 comments:

Ms. Moon said...

I think that movie would give me nightmares.

ellen abbott said...

the japanese can be seriously weird. and I've never understood the whole charms for your cell phone thing.

Nancy said...

I have a 35-year-old brother who is gaga over Japanese anime (and manga, which he loves to draw). That stuff is an acquired taste that I haven't acquired yet.

Do you remember Speed Racer and its strange animation and creepy mouth movement? I couldn't quite get into that either, but I grew up with boys, so...

e said...

I'm with Ms. Moon on this one...

How is the world's cutest dog today?

Linda Sue said...

I would not have chosen to watch all of those- but my son loves them so...I got sucked in and they usually make me cry! Have not seen the raccoon dog "pouches" revenge but it's on the list for when Erik comes home. We have watched some pretty astonishing Japanese films, some incredibly disturbing like "dumplings",,,eeek! I have to be in a good space to take on Japanese films or I would fall into despair...Two pups sleeping at my feet right now- they are dreaming of Olga!

Elizabeth said...

I find those Japanese movies mind-blowing, too, even though I'm not a big fan of anime or anything. My favorite is "Howl's Moving Castle" -- it moved me to tears in such a primitive way, almost as if I was a little girl again, lost in a book.

Helene Titsch said...

OK, I had to watch the raccoons going into battle because you description had be laughing out loud. In a word...unbelievable! Today I have been enlightened...thank you!!!

Steve Reed said...

Ms Moon: Maybe!

Ellen: Yeah, I don't get that cell phone thing either.

Nancy: I do remember Speed Racer! That kind of anime is not my thing, though -- simple adventure. These movies are much more textured.

E: She is sleeping on the carpet in front of me as I type!

Linda Sue: They ARE amazingly sad, many of them!

Elizabeth: I loved "Howl's Moving Castle"! Also great, aside from the two I mentioned in my post, are "Castle in the Sky," "Princess Mononoke," "Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" -- all Studio Ghibli.

Helene: Isn't it crazy? It's truly an OMG moment.