Forest Activism: Durito and Pom Poko
It's so fitting that I just came home from one of the most fascinating political movies I've ever seen only to have in my mailbox, a notice of the outcome of the Zapatista consulta and the publication of the 6th declaration of the Selva Lacandona. This new declaration, which gives a brief history and explanation of the Zapatistas' organizing since 1994 is the product of a consulation with over one thousand indigenous communities in Southern Mexico. It is not clear what the next step will be, but the declaration says that it is necessary or the movement will really come to an end.
The movie that I just saw, Pom Poko, is a tale of magical racoons of Japanese fable who fight, through creative non-violence and guerilla warfare to try to save their forest from suburban development. The film is a really clever mix of Japanese lore and commentary on capitalism. Norman A. Rubin describes the magical powers attributed to raccoons in Japanese folklore: The ‘tanuki’ is a small hairy animal, and it is believed that he can transform into a frightening creature. Sometimes he is depicted humourously, having a gigantic scrotum which he drags behind him or wears it as a kimono. In some Netsuke figures the ‘tanuki’ appears as a Buddhist monk dressed in robes and banging on his scrotum as if it were a temple drum. “There is a fable that tells of an incident by the abbot of the Morinji Temple. He bought a tea-kettle and instructed one of the monks to clean it. Suddenly a voice spoke from the kettle, ‘Ow that hurts, please be more gentle.’ When the abbot wanted to boil some water, out popped the tail, legs and arms of a ‘tanuki’ and the vessel started to run about the room. It dumbfounded the poor abbot and he tried to catch the kettle, but it eluded him.”
The film is very true to the fables of racoon magic, for when the raccoons are being trained in transformation in Pom Poko, their first step is practicing the tea-kettle. As for that other bit, the "raccoon's pouch" is used in all kinds of bizarre and surprising transformations in the movie. It is quite an amazing film,and not just because it features furry cartoon animals with visible testicles. Since Disney has brought this movie out in the US, it will be interesting to see how some parents react. More important in the movie is the way it addresses the serious problem the animals face as their forest is bulldozed and replaced with housing for humans. The fights between the animals over strategy reminded me of old revolutionary political meetings at times.
I don't want seem insulting by comparing a movie about shape-shifting raccoons to a real, ongoing struggle of human beings...so let me explain. There's a way that Marcos' Durito character and the raccoons of Pom Poko are similar - animals used to give the story of a political struggle charm and universal appeal. I think that Marcos would wholly approve of "Pom Poko" if he were able to see it.