Pom Poko (FAQ)

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Q: What does "Heisei Tanuki Gassen PomPoko" mean?

It means "Heisei-era Tanuki Battle Pom Poko". "Heisei" is the name of the current Japanese emperor's reign. Along with the western calendar system, the Japanese have their own system. The name of the era is changed every time there is a new Emperor. Currently (2001), it's the 13th year of Heisei (which means "peaceful").

Interestingly, the Tanukis seem to have their own calendar system, too. At the beginning of the movie, the narrator says "In the 31st year of Pom Poko...". Pom Poko is the sound Tanukis make by beating their tummies, like they did at the party they were having on the golf course in the last scene. In a very famous children's song, "Shojoji no Tanuki Bayashi", Tanukis are beating their tummies, singing a song, having fun under the moon. The refrain of the song says "Pom Poko Pom no Pom!", and that's how the Japanese think of Tanukis.

Q: What is a Tanuki?

Translated as "raccoon dog", "Tanuki" is a native animal of Asia which looks like a raccoon. It's a part of the Canine family (NYCTEREUTES PROCYONOIDES). More information "here" and "here".

Q: Is it based on a manga or a book?

No, it's Takahata's original story. After Porco Rosso, Miyazaki was wondering what anime Ghibli should make next. He was going, "Buta (pig), buta, buta....Tanuki!". So he told Takahata that the next movie was going to be about Tanukis, and Takahata was going to direct it.

Q: What are the general Japanese myths and folklores involving Tanukis?

There are tons of them. Basically, Tanukis are believed to be able to change their shapes into any forms they want. Tanukis play tricks on humans (for example, changing into a human and buying some sake with fake money made from leaves), the tricks are usually harmless, but they often provoke severe retaliation from humans. In general, Tanukis are depicted as mischievous, but lovable creatures, though some of the folklore is quite cruel.

The other characteristic of Tanukis is that their testicles are believed to be quite large (as big as eight Tatamis). This is supposed to bring good fortune (since they are called "Golden Balls"). If you go to Japan, you can see many ceramic Tanuki statuettes standing in front of shops, each with his big testicles and a Sake bottle in his hand. The Tanuki's big testicles are not a sexual symbol, and the Japanese are more tolerant of low humor than Americans.

Some of the Tanuki folklore featured in "Pom Poko" might be available in English, since it is quite popular and well-known. One of them is "Bunbuku Chagama", a story about a Tanuki who changed into a tea kettle (and of course, he was put on a fire). "Chagama" (tea kettle) is the black round thing the Tanukis were trying to change into when they were training (the scene where they were thrown off a cliff). Another one is "Kachi Kachi Yama", which is quite cruel (there is a more politically correct version available now). In this story, a Tanuki killed an old woman, and her husband took revenge for her death, with help from a rabbit. The demise of the Tanuki came from making and boarding a boat made from mud. The boat sank, of course, and the Tanuki drowned. The Shikoku Tanuki's line, "Our ship isn't made from mud" came from this.

Some of Tanukis are quite famous and powerful, sometimes worshipped as a god. Those elder Tanukis from Shikoku are these "historically famous" Tanukis.

Q: How were the Tanukis related to the foxes (Kitsune)?

In Japan, foxes, as well as old cats, are believed to have some magical powers, as Tanukis do. In the "mandala" which was used to educate the young Tanukis, you can see a Tanuki, a Kitsune, and a Neko (cat), who looks like Moon in "Whisper of the Heart". Kitsune are also considered to be the messengers of the god Inari in Shinto belief. In "Pom Poko", a Tanuki changed himself into a white fox , and scared the wits out of the people who were trying to move a Shinto shrine to develop the land.

Q: Why did the Tanukis put leaves on their heads while practicing transforming?

In Japan, it is believed that Tanukis put leaves on their heads and chant to transform themselves. However, Oroku (the old lady Tanuki) dismisses it, saying "That's what novices do!". It is also believed that Tanuki can change leaves into money (as one of them did in "Pom Poko"), and can fool humans. However, according to Oroku, changing leaves into money is now prohibited. If you've played "Super Mario Brothers", when Mario gets a leaf, he gains pointy ears and the tail of a Tanuki. That came from the association between leaves and Tanukis.

Q: Why are there three different designs of Tanuki?

The first one is the "realistic" version of a Tanuki. Tanukis look like this when they are interacting with humans. If Tanukis standing on their hind legs and wearing human clothes appeared in front of humans and spoke, it would have looked like a Disney family movie, and considering the serious nature of the issues Pom Poko deals with, that wouldn't have worked.

The second one, the "humanized" version, was created so that the audience could identify with the Tanukis more. (You can't make the whole movie with the "realistic" version of the Tanukis.) In "Pom Poko", Tanukis are supposed to live in that form (standing on their hind legs and wearing clothes) whenever humans aren't watching.

The third one, the "simplified" version, was from Shigeru SUGIURA's manga. Miyazaki loves the work of this old manga writer. When he first thought about making a movie about Tanukis, he had Sugiura's "808 Tanukis" in his mind. Takahata had other ideas for his Tanuki movie, but still wanted to use Sugiura's design in the movie. Since it is a simpler and more cartoon-like design, Takahata used it when Tanukis feel "down" or get distracted, for example when beaten by others, or partying, and couldn't retain their "full form".

Q: Where is the city built near the Tanuki's home?

The Tanukis lived among the Tama Kyuryou, (Tama Hills), in West Tokyo. The Japanese government (in reality and in the movie) built a totally new town with high-rise apartments, schools, hospitals, and so forth. The town is called "Tama New Town". It is no longer new today, since about a quarter of a century has passed since it was built.

Q: What did the Tanuki drink when they were in human form?

They are called "Vitamin Drinks", and are quite popular among the Japanese, especially overworked and tired workers. They are supposed to give you an energy boost, and some of them are aphrodisiacs (at least that's the claim). If you go to Japan, you can see that these drinks are sold in vending machines, and drunk by Japanese businessmen everywhere, including at train stations.

Q: What are those "Faceless" people the policeman saw?

They are called "Nopperabou". It is from a very well-known old Japanese ghost story. It's basically the same as in the original, except of course, the characters were wearing kimono, and the man didn't go to the police station. Instead, he went to a Soba (Japanese noodle) stand, and the master of the stand said, "So, did she look like this?"

Another theme taken from the old Japanese ghost stories is "Oitekebori". It means both "Leave it canal" and "Being left". The story is about a man who caught a fish in a canal. Suddenly, a voice from the canal said "Oiteke~ (Leave it!)", so the man ran away as fast as he could. In "Pom Poko", they first pulled a prank on a couple in a car, by calling "Yotteke~ (Come in!)" with a bunch of blinking "Love hotel" signs (you know, the place you go with your partner). When kids threw litter into a bush, they were thrown back at them, with the call "Motteke~ (Take it!). For the man who was about to cut a tree, "Hottoke~ (Leave it alone!). Then, Tanukis saw a family at a picnic, saying "Let's take our garbage back home", and packing up the leftovers from their lunch. Tanukis (spontaneously) said "Oiteke~ (Leave it!)". ^_^ You can read old Japanese ghost stories in "Kwaidan", or other books by "Lafcadio Hearn".

Q: Who is the Japanese Samurai on horseback that the old Tanuki changed into?

That scene is based on the famous story of Nasu no Yoichi in "The Tale of Heike" , the story which took place in the end of the 12th Century (at first, Takahata wanted to make "The Tale of Heike" into anime, instead of doing a story about Tanuki).

The Heike clan and the Genji clan were fighting to be the ruler of Japan. At the battle of Yashima (Ya Island), Heike lost the battle and fled the island by ships. One of the women of Heike then attached her fan to a pole and raised it, challenging the Genji Samurais to shoot it. But since it was too far from the shore and the target was constantly moving, the Genji Samurais hesitated. Then, to protect the honor and the pride of Genji, a young Samurai, Nasu no Yoichi, stepped forward. He successfully shot the hinge of the fan, separating it from the pole. Everyone, both Genji and Heike, cheered for this master archer.

The old tanuki (999 years old!) is from Yashima, and he saw this battle with his own eyes. That's why the other Tanukis asked him to recreate this scene.

Q: Are those monsters in the "Monster Parade" Japanese monsters?

Yes. They are mostly Japanese traditional monsters called "Yokai" from folk tales, Kabuki, Ukiyoe, and Shigeru MIZUKI's manga.

File:Http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/pompoko/yokai1 full.jpg

They all have names and stories behind them. Some of them are from very famous art pieces such as "Fuujin (Wind God) and Raijin (Thunder God)". There is also some homage to the oldest Japanese manga, "Choju Giga" and "Kenji MIYAZAWA's "The Night on the Galactic Railroad"".

Q: Where were those Tanukis on the ship heading for?

They were going to Fudaraku (Heaven), meaning that this was a journey to death.

It's based on the beliefs of Fudaraku, one of the old Buddhist cults. The Fudaraku cult believed that the island of Fudaraku exists on the Western sea, and by boarding a ship, you can leave your pain and suffering behind, and get to Nirvana. Throughout history, there have been some incidents where a believer was put into a ship-shaped coffin alive, and was thrown into the sea. The ship itself was modeled after Takarabune (Treasure Ship). It's a ship on which the Seven Lucky Gods rode, with many treasures. It is supposed to be a lucky charm.

Q: What is the source for the twin girl spirits?

The girls came from "Futago no Hoshi" (Twin Stars), a children's story by Kenji MIYAZAWA.

Miyazawa is a famous writer in Japan, and Takahata and Miyazaki loves his works. There are several things that were taken from Miyazawa's works in Pom Poko. Gauche the Cellist is a Miyazawa story directed by Takahata.

Q: Are there in-jokes in "Pom Poko"?

Porco, Kiki, Totoro, and Taeko appear in the scene where the Tanukis are heading for the humans' town to conduct the "Monster Parade". Among the bubbles and flying pumpkins, you can see them flying.

Q: Who did the music for "Pom Poko"?

It was done by the Okinawan Rock group, "Shang Shang Typhoon".

"Pom Poko" used much traditional Japanese music, folk music, Kabuki, children's songs and so forth. Several children's songs about Tanuki are featured in "Pom Poko", such as "Shojoji no Tanuki Bayashi". The song Shoukichi and Okiyo sang when they were playing with a ball was "Antagata Dokosa (Where are you From?)", a children's play song for bouncing a ball. In this song, a hunter hunts Tanukis with his gun, boils them, barbecues them, and eats them. Another song is a quite earthy song (therefore, kids love it) about Tanuki's testicles swinging in the wind.

Q: Is it available in English?

There is a sub. "Pom Poko" was Japan's entry for the 1995 Academy Awards' Best Foreign Film in 1995, and got limited theater release. It is included in the Disney-Tokuma deal, and available on DVD.