The tanuki, Japan’s “raccoon dogs” are distinctive and animated enough animals that it’s easy to see why Studio Ghibli chose to, well, animate them. In this film, they come in many forms, first showed in how they shimmer into clothing and anthropomorphic stature in the film’s opening fight scene. Later scenes take their transformations more and more outlandishly, culminating in ridiculous setpieces set around them transforming their pronounced testicles in creative ways.
As a sort of sympathetic legend of why creatures like the taunki are the way they are, scavengers perceived by some as nuisances and that sort of thing, the film does a fairly good job. But the pseudodocumentary style hampers things, as its so dully expository, didactic, and repetitive. There are nice touches that break it up now and again – a timelapse of a town built over a hill, a more symbolic take showing cranes begin to eat away at a leaf, a video game style visual metaphor and so on, but for most of the runtime, its a documentary-style voice…documenting. Some interludes are fun, like a properly spooky show of faceless raccoons-turned-humans, and some are affecting, like unfortunate displays of roadkill, but the plot wears out its welcome, although its message is admirable.
Interesting ideas are at play here, and the central creatures are more than interesting enough to be worth a film based around them, but this one isn’t as strongly told as it perhaps could’ve been. Three tanuki and a fox.