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Pom Poko (Blu-ray Review)

Pom-PokoPom Poko is the seventh film from the animation house Studio Ghibli.  It is also their first film in the canon to use computer animation in the film.  I couldn’t tell you where exactly or how it was used, as its not very evident upon watching the movie as it all looks two dimensionally hand drawn.  Its the third film from director Isao Takahata (Also written by him), where back in these days it seemed to just alternate between he and Hayao Miyazaki.  Pom Poko was once again a major success for the studio, as it topped the Japanese box office and was the highest grossing film of 1994 in Japan.  From 1989 to 1994, every year Studio Ghibli released a film, it wound up being the highest earning film of the year in Japan.  That’s a pretty nice feat to accomplish.  They were pretty much accomplishing here with their animation what Disney was doing in America at the same time with the likes of films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and the like.

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Film 

Studio Ghibli presents a film about the clash between modern civilization and the natural world from acclaimed director Isao Takahata. The raccoons of the Tama Hills are being forced from their homes by the rapid development of houses and shopping malls. As it becomes harder to find food and shelter, they decide to band together and fight back. The raccoons practice and perfect the ancient art of transformation until they are even able to appear as humans. In often hilarious ways, the raccoons use their powers to try to scare off the advance of civilization. But will it be enough? Or will the raccoons learn how to live in balance with the modern world?

This story is actually based upon real Japanese folklore featuring “raccoon dogs” (as they call them, English version is just simply raccoons) that can shape shift into objects, people or whatever.  They are able to craft an illusion and trick people and other animals.  Not included int his film, but foxes were also shape shifters in similar lore.  These are more civilized-like raccoons too, as they wear clothing and communicate in the native language spoken by humans.

Pom Poko has a kinda weird idea to detail the story, but the mission of the film is rather familiar.  Its basically a movie where a community is trying to save its village from being torn down by an “evil corporation”.  In this instance, its the raccoons against the Japanese housing industry trying to craft more land due to overpopulation.  The raccoons pull plenty of tricks on them and are able to stop production and even delay it at times.  Its a theme you’ve seen before, mainly in a lot of kids movies, but I’m sure never with shape shifting racoons.

While kid friendly in presentation and animation, this film does seem to find some deeper roots.  It does produce some real ethical questions and drama for the raccoons.  Some of them aren’t sure what they are doing is right, then there are others who are fine with shape shifting into humans and spending the rest of their days in that form, leaving the forest and raccoon days behind.  The film is able to draw up a few interesting perspectives along with a couple surprisingly touching moments in its third act.

This seventh Studio Ghibli animated film was a pretty decent time.  I think there was a great story to be told here and the screenplay had the nuggets to create some real genuine dramatics.  One of the big problems here is that its excessively long and feels like forever to get from place to place.  Some moments the film is okay with just screwing around.  There were a few places where I found myself losing my attention with it.  Had it been a little tighter, this thing could have gone from good to great.  As it stands, I found it to be solid entertainment with some weightier things than you might expect from the outset of the film.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  Appearing with very much the same look as the other two Studio Ghibli releases for 2/3.  This transfer captures the image in a sharp and crisp form.  Every detail appears to be to the forefront and present.  Movements are nice and smooth and digital distortions occur at all.

Black Levels:  Blacks are rich, dark and provide some decent shading.

Color Reproduction:  Colors appear accurate.  They are nice and distinct.  While not a wide variety of shades, opting for more basic tones, each is represented quite nicely and looks good and solid.

Flesh Tones:  N/A

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French 2.0 Dolby Digital, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

Dynamics: This 2.0 track sounds terrific.  A nice balance between sound, score and voice.  The transformation sound of the raccoon sounds quite full and detailed.  Much of the foley effect work transcends nicely through your front channel speakers in this mix.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue was loud, clear and distinct.

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Extras 

Pom Poko comes with a DVD copy of the film, a Disney Movie Rewards code and an offer to get 4 Movies For $1 from Disney Movie Club.  The extras come courtesy of the original DVD release.  They are standard definition clips presented with AVC encoding.

Original Japanese Storyboards (HD, 1:59:08) – The entire film, told with storyboards.  Features the original Japanese audio track and English subtitles.

Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers (HD, 7:45) 

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Summary 

Pom Poko provides solid entertainment, if not a bit too lengthy in its runtime (pretty much two hours).  This release has a great video transfer that looks spot on accurate and audio track that provides some above average accompaniment.  The extras on this one are really skimpy compared to the other two Ghibli releases coming on February 3rd, so it is definitely lacking there.  Fans should be happy with this upgrade though.

Pom-Poko-Blu-ray

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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