I had absolutely zero interest in watching Pom Poko. I never intended on watching it, I never intended on caring about it, I honestly didn't think I'd like it, and I had other anime to watch. Plus, an anime entirely about tanuki just didn't appeal to me, and probably never will. I was so sure I would go through my life never watching this movie...unfortunately, I took a class on Japanese supernatural creatures in college, and on the last day of classes, my teacher made us watch this...and my fears were correct: not only was this movie disappointing, but watching it just made me feel drained and uneasy. The only time I was happy was when this movie finally ended or was close to ending. Honestly, I can't stand this movie and I hope to never have to see it ever again.
The story is about a bunch of tanuki who live their normal lives in peace...until humans come into their forests and knock everything down so they can make houses and a new neighborhood for humans. This makes the tanuki angry, and they try to fight off the humans as much as possible in order to preserve their homes, even going as far as to use their shapeshifting powers. Unfortunately, some of the tanuki have forgotten how to shapeshift and have to learn from the masters in order to do so. Some will stop at nothing to fight off the humans, some even suggest that they kill humans, and others just want to save their homes. Yeah, it's a pretty heavily environmentalist movie.
Honestly, this movie could have been great, and it does have a lot of things people would like: animal characters, great Ghibli animation, a wonderful soundtrack, and an aesop about protecting the environment. Unfortunately, this movie fails so hard in so many ways. For one, the movie barely shows anything. All it does is jump from scene to scene for just about no reason just as people are getting to understand what the heck is going on. It doesn't help that there's an obnoxious narrator who is present throughout THE ENTIRE MOVIE who NEVER shuts up about anything! I think the movie would have benefitted so much had they cut out the narrator! Instead of having that narrator info-dump about the tanuki losing their homes, why not show the tanuki losing their home and their reactions to it! Well, technically, they do, but it's so forced in and heavy handed that the movie gives us no reason to care about the characters or their plight.
Speaking of the characters, I'm not afraid to say this: the characters in this movie don't feel like actual characters. They feel more like props to force feed the audience the story's message than anything. All of them are extremely one note, bland, one-dimensional, and pretty much never develop throughout the entire movie. One character, Gonta, is especially terrible because all he does is whine about how he doesn't get to kill any humans. Almost all of the characters are incredibly mean spirited, and the ones who aren't don't do anything to make us care about them or like them. The only character I even remotely liked was the one tanuki lady in the red kimono. She was a strict teacher, but had moments where she was hopeful, told jokes, had fun, and genuinely cared about her elders and the students, so she wasn't being a strict teacher for the sake of being strict. But she didn't get enough screen time to make me like her. All of the other characters are just either ciphers or mouthpieces, nothing else.
The animation is good as usual, and the music is the same, and...honestly, I don't have a problem with tanuki using their testicles in this movie. They're clearly using them for non-sexual purposes, and if they do use them for sexual purposes, its always consensual and never played for fanservice or ecchiness. I know some people would be absolutely horrified by this, but there are worse things out there than mythical cartoon animals using their balls to transform themselves and fight humans. Besides, animals using their sexual organs is common, and it's never portrayed as fanservice-y in any anime I've seen. I DO, however, have a problem with the movie's execution of its morals. It has a very heavy message about how humans hurt the environment with their housing projects and technology, but it's so heavyhanded and forceful that it feels like its force-feeding its message to us rather than letting us interpret it for ourselves. Above all else...the tanukis' struggle is all for naught. We pretty much know that they're not gonna win no matter what, so the question we should be asking is...was it all worth it? What should we even take from this? I honestly don't know, but I do want the two hours I spent watching this back.
Want to know the worst thing? This was penned by Isao Takahata, the man behind Grave of the Fireflies and Tale of Princess Kaguya, among other films. He's usually a lot more restrained than this, so to see one of his works be so ham-handed and cringe-inducing is extremely unlike him. Needless to say, I didn't like this movie. At all. All watching it did was make me feel drained. Now I know what the TVTropes term Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy is, because this movie pretty much exemplifies it.
Not Ghibli's best work. I'd recommend Nausicaa, Kaguya, or When Marnie Was There over this. It's just...not a good movie, and not even good animation and music can save it. It was a massive chore to watch, and a massive waste of time.