This animated folk-fantasy from Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata makes an unlikely candidate for Stateside cross-over. The main storyline has packs of ‘tanuki’ (raccoon dogs) calling a truce to take on a common enemy: the rapid industrial & housing developments that are taking away their forests. Easy enough to relate to, but the shape-shifting animals are difficult to keep straight*, while the generally defeatist tone is, frankly, a bummer. The film has been translated, but not situated culturally. Even with a constant narrator as guide, the quick-changing ways of the critters come off as arbitrary rather than daringly adventurous. Worse, it tends to negate any emotional connection. Perhaps a more stylized painterly presentation, like the strolling perspective in a series of Japanese landscape vistas, or some such artistically confining principle would help focus our attention on formal design rather the waylaid character & story elements. As it stands, the film only highlights the achievements of Takahata’s Ghibli partner Hayao Miyazaki.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *A few of the macho raccoon dogs stand out thanks to their prominent testicles. Yikes! Great opportunity for a talk about neutering with the kiddies.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Stick with BAMBI/’42.