Pompo The Cinéphile (Cert 12A)

Limited Theatrical Release (Distributor: Anime Ltd.) Running time: 94 minutes approx.

Release Date: June 29th  

“Welcome to the world of dreams and madness!”

So speaks the eponymous character of this anime love letter to cinema, as if the title wasn’t already a giveaway. If the “madness” part sounds like a self-deprecating epigram, it actually isn’t as the film goes onto explore in great detail, taking us behind the scenes of the whole filmmaking process.

The actual central protagonist of this story is Gene Fini, a young film buff an student of the business with a dream to make his own film one day but doesn’t have the courage to do so. Fortunately, Gene managed to become the personal assistant to producer Joelle D. Pomponette of Peterson Films – not a cigar chewing, hardnosed megalomaniac but a pixie-esque girl with childish energy and a matching personality.

Like Gene, Pompo is also a cinéphile thanks to her grandfather’s influence and has taken over his production company and film studio following his retirement. Despite making trashy B-movies, Pompo’s films are a certified success in Nyallywood. After meeting a young actress named Natalie Woodward for an audition, Pompo writes a script just for her entitled Meister, and having noted Gene’s slavish devotion and understanding of the medium, gives him the chance to direct it.

You may have already noticed some of the not so subtle distorted references in some of the place and character names, something anime has a habit of doing (although real pro-wrestler names are mentioned without ambiguity). Don’t be put off by this, it rarely happens, and whilst Pompo The Cinéphile wears its heart on its sleeve, it is not a cheap tribute lacking substance or merit.

It’s origins are in a manga by Shogo Sugitani which has been running since 2017. One would think a title of that length would be better suited to a TV series were it would have more room to tell the whole story; instead, director Takayuki Hirao has chosen to adapt a chunk of it into this single 94-minute film. Readers of the manga will know if there is any notable omissions, whilst the rest of us will find this a comprehensive adaptation.

Before anyone dismisses Pompo as a poor relative to Satoshi Kon’s classic Millennium Actress, they are two different films sharing the same topic. If anything, Pompo is closer in tone and spirit to the recent anime series Eizoken ni wa Te o Dasu na! about a trio of students making their own anime film. Pompo is the biggest culprit of this by looking like someone from a Masaaki Yuasa film (incidentally, Yuasa directed Eizoken…), clashing wildly with the more conservative designs of most of the other characters.

Gene and Natalie are the other exemptions as they could fit into a shonen series with their appearances, otherwise the rest of the cast are straight looking, yet they all miraculously bend well together. The chosen male lead for Meister is Martin Braddock, the “greatest actor in the world”, whilst the appointment of plain Natalie over Pompo’s regular star beauty Mystia raises a few eyebrows but Pompo has her reasons.

From here, the story concentrates on the making of Meister, and Gene’s baptism of fire, which would have been a disaster if he wasn’t already so clued up on the business. The entire process is not an easy one but not as problematic as it could have been, giving us a glimpse at both the positive and negative aspects of filmmaking, from weather issues to time constraints, from serendipitous solutions to the camaraderie created.

However, it is in the post-production where the real heartache begins for Gene. Pompo insists he edits his own film, to understand its purpose and why a judicious approach is essential in editing, As she wisely puts it: “Directing is subjective; editing is objective” Pompo declares early on she hates long films and feels it is unfair to hold an audience for longer than 90 minutes; Gene has already edited 80 minutes of the film and still barely halfway through.

As much as the script gets right and is enlightening on so many levels, the only area that feels ignored is the drama. Much like a sporting zero to hero saga, there is no question Gene isn’t going to succeed, complete with a rose tinted, fairy tale ending. This isn’t to say it shouldn’t end this way, but sometimes the journey is more intriguing than the destination.

One thing Hirao does very well is use the medium of film as a prominent moving part of the presentation and the narrative. At first, it is the cute use of film related motifs to act as transitions between scenes, but a Gene becomes deeply embroiled in the editing, and learns he needs to sacrifice a lot of footage to create a better film, Hirao’s imagination is allowed to run free in depicting the mental stress this process incurs.

Not everyone is going to be enamoured with the mechanics of how a film is made which the script also recognises and references as such. A subplot involving a young banker Alana, trying to convince his ban to fund Meister is a curious diversion in that it gives us a look and the funding issue for making a film but also runs into cheesy territory in its execution of the film’s fundamental theme of making dreams come true.

Kudos to the relatively new studio CLAP for their production work, delivery a colourfully fantastic aesthetic and richly detailed artwork for an evocative and immersive viewing experience, complimenting the fluid animation and inventive, eye catching editing. The bubblegum veneer does not distract us from the sincerity of the tribute being paid to cinema – if anything it should make accessible for anyone less enthused about pulling back the filmmaking curtain.

Pompo The Cinéphile is an earnest, respectful work whose educational value might be dimmed by its gaudy appearance and staid scripting, yet it is difficult not be charmed by this charismatic and well meaning salute to cinema.  

 

Rating – ****  

Man In Black

 

Pompo the Cinéphile will be at selected cinemas in Japanese with English subtitles from Wednesday 29th June 2022 and in English-language dub from Thursday 30th June. 

For further information and book tickets, visit www.pompofilm.co.uk

 

3 thoughts on “Anime Review – Pompo The Cinéphile

    1. The fact it has only a very limited run here in the UK is a sad indictment of how little anime films are thought of as mainstream fodder, but it should do well with a home media release.

      Liked by 1 person

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