Table of contents

Pom poko

Moral & metaphysical reflections on nature

Human beings began in the Sixties to cut down the forests around Tokyo to accommodate population growth & their newfound prosperity. The raccoons therefore have to fight against the creatures to whose leftovers they are drawn. Raccoons are human-like in their ability to shapeshift & their irresponsible pleasure in parties. Like all beings, crowding leads them to destroy each other. So they have recourse to their humanity to make up an alliance against humans.

They come up with two plans. One, to investigate humans–they turn to television, & they are stupefied by the spectacle. That’s one worthwhile lesson about being human. The other, to regain their ancient shape-shifting powers, in order to trick humans. They put two together: Let’s drive away humans with sacred fears!–They have some success with superstition, but the ensuing hysteria ends up in the tabloids. Meanwhile, the work of capitalism, striving against nature, continues apace.

It’s worth noting, the production of images & fears replaces reproduction among the crowded, harassed raccoons. When the raccoons do reproduce, crowding leads them to die in traps or end up as roadkill. That is a radical incongruity. The raccoons also kill humans by provoking accidents. When the raccoons have their little fascism & kamikaze scene, it all falls flat. Nature is presented as naturally free of strife.

This requires presenting strife as essentially a human fact. This is where stories are introduced. For example, the emergence of raccoon-hunting is storified as an answer to the raccoons’ habit of conspicuously displaying their powers. What could this mean? There is a moral answer, which is obvious, but also obviously false; & a metaphysical answer, which is obscure, but obviously true. Metaphysically, it means that man answers to wonders with vengeance–with war. Morally, it means that modern man experiences the world economically, in fearful ways that concentrate on acquiring whatever can be acquired, whatever attracts attention, with no care for its being, only for the powers it can confer on man.

This prepares the way for the introduction of the shape-shifting raccoon elders of Shikoku–the Northern, savage island of Japan. They revert to the past: Terrifying man into fearing nature: Turning man’s imagination against him. They want to create a carnival to humble man’s scientific pretensions–face people with the perplexing–make being opaque. It turns out, this is useless. Human beings naturally anthropomorphize: What matters is that someone human-shaped can take credit for mystery. Human beings worship human-shaped gods, ultimately, & therefore bow to no one else.

This prepares the way for the emergence of shape-shifting foxes: The fox naturally proposes to turn the raccoons into a circus: Instead of dying in a useless battle of dreams against iron. The only thing left, the forest-dream.

An Oscar-nominated, Ghibli-studio movie by Isao Takahata