If Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is the ultimate love letter to animation, its cinematic equivalent is undoubtedly Pompo: The Cinephile. Plenty of movies about movies have been made, but have any ever made the process of editing a movie look like an intense battle against the clock? Or have a protagonist who literally has nothing to lose, because his whole life — has been focused on film?
It’s not that he lost friends or lovers to his artform. He never had them in the first place. In Pompo, the titular Ms. Pompo tells her beleaguered assistant that she chose him to direct her screenplay basically because he isn’t a happy, go-lucky, starry-eyed somebody. He’s just kind of tired.
Pompo: The Cinephile is all about the realities of making a movie; and how sometimes you have to “kill your darlings,” as the saying goes. This movie wasn’t made for the general audience, but for the people who want to be part of the creative process of movie-making.
It’s a movie about movies – if you enjoy the art of filmmaking in any way (like myself) you’ll find something interesting about the film, and you’ll likely learn something.
Pompo is a producer of B-movies – she loves making films with sexy female leads, monsters, and action. And she’s very good at it. One day, she tells her assistant Gene, that he will be directing her next film a drama about a tortured music composer called Meister.
Starring the greatest actor of all time and a newbie actress with no credits under her belt, Gene is tasked with ensuring Meister becomes one of the best movies of all time.
Although Pompo is the titular character, Pompo: The Cinephile is really Gene’s story. It’s about his growth as a person and how he learns that movie making is a difficult business from both first-hand experience and the experience of those around him.
This is the only movie I can think of that makes the act of editing actually interesting. Gene fights tentacle-like strips of films with a sword – cutting the pieces down to size or eliminating them completely. The sequence happens a couple of times but it has the same intensity every time it appears.
It never gets boring. And it perfectly exemplifies why this film could ONLY work in animated form.
And the character designs are interesting: Pompo is drawn in a rounder, more “kawaii” style than the other characters; she appears to be a young girl. (Whether or not she actually is a teenager is unclear.) The other characters tend to have the same, more angular style – except for Martin Braddock, the Marlon Brando of this universe, who is more detailed – so show his age and “realistic” style of acting.
You can tell a lot about a character by their design in Pompo: The Cinephile and I really appreciate that.
But what I liked was the film’s focus on the themes of happiness, passion, and the joys of the film. Everyone in the film is searching for their passion, for the place they belong. It’s also the main theme of the film-within-the-film Meister – which from what I can tell seems to be Oscar bait but like good Oscar bait.
While at times, it can seem nihilistic or unhealthy (Gene at one point ends up in the hospital due to exhaustion only to promptly leave to continue editing the movie) – it mainly takes a positive view of film and passion (even if Pompo says only outcasts make good films).
It’s also implied that Gene made his film specifically for Pompo – who is a firm believer in the idea that a film should not be longer than 90 minutes, among other ideas. It’s a very touching moment that shows a lot about the characters.
The bad? The film embraces the idea of ruining your health for your art – which is something I just can’t get behind…If there’s one thing I’ve learned since the pandemic began it’s that nothing is worth sacrificing your health over. In the film’s defense, it was supposed to be released in 2020 – so probably a lot of the work was done pre-pandemic. And the manga was also created pre-pandemic….
And this is a minor nitpick, I guess – but Meister just seems like schlocky Oscar bait. It’s about an older man, who has lost his passion as well as alienated his wife and daughter – and then finds joy after meeting a manic pixie dream girl sort…
I guess I just don’t understand that a film that is supposed to be about a love for movies, chooses the cheesiest, most cliche film possible to make. I suppose that could be the point – but frankly — I just don’t get it.
It just doesn’t seem like that interesting of a film. The bits we do see, appear pretentious and overwrought…Maybe I’m jaded or missing something…I just feel like they still could have made an Oscar-winning movie without making it so obviously Oscar bait…
Oh well. At least the actual movie was interesting. So that’s really all that matters. Isn’t it?
Movies about movies tend to be kind of pretentious…but Pompo: The Cinephile isn’t – the film it’s making might be – but the actual film itself is bursting with life. It runs the gamut of human emotions. It digs into nearly every aspect of movie-making, not just one or two.
While it didn’t leave a huge impact on me and isn’t a film I’m likely to get a DVD of…the movie was fun. It was worth the price of the ticket and I had a good time watching Pompo.
And that’s the scoop.
Writer/Director: Takayuki Hirao
Year of release: 2021
Length: 90 minutes