Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
90 Minutes of Animated, Film Loving, Perfection
Pompo: The Cinephile is based on Shogo Sugitani's six-volume Japanese manga of the same name. The film is directed by Takayuki Hirao and is essentially a love letter to cinema. From behind the scenes to its theatrical debut, Pompo: The Cinephile will appeal to anyone who appreciates the art of the filmmaking process.
The film follows three major characters: a production assistant named Gene Fini, an aspiring actor named Natalie Woodward, and a producer named Joel D. Pomponette, Pompo for short. Pompo inherited the Nyallywood Peterzen Films Studio from her grandfather, who was a legend in the film industry. The films Pompo produces are generally known as B-movies with giant monsters and sex appeal (according to Pompo, "As long as the lead actress is pretty, it’s a good movie."), but she sees it differently.
Pompo has an eye for films that will make a profit and even seems to see potential in upcoming actors and filmmakers. She has written a new film, which she intends to bring the world’s greatest actor, Martin Braddock, out of retirement. Surprisingly though, she intends to cast a new actress in the lead and wants this to be Gene’s directorial debut.
We see Gene progress and mature as a filmmaker during Pompo’s short, but sweet 90-minute duration. He’s given the responsibility of cutting and editing a teaser trailer, then a full-length trailer, followed by reading and giving feedback on a full-length screenplay, and then finally being given the director position on a new project. The directing gig is a learning process for him, as well. Filming with the talent involved seems like the easy part as Gene is tasked with editing his own film, which is where all the hard work for him comes in. He spends weeks sleeplessly working on his film and realizes that to perfect his vision he has to not only inject himself into his cinematic vision, but also has to take a flying leap outside of his comfort zone.
Hilarious, Heart Warming, and Exquisitely Animated
Hollywood has been replaced with Nyallywood in the film. The “Nya” comes from the sound cats make in Japanese culture. The cat is the symbol of Nyallywood and can be seen throughout the film. Pompo: The Cinephile explores the concept of creativity in addition to the art of film. Gene was not popular in school as movies were his best friends growing up. He was an outcast and Pompo believes that happiness destroys creativity. Artists create a world to escape reality when reality doesn’t meet expectations. The depth of the world that person creates for themselves matches the complexity of that individual’s potential creativity. Pompo’s perspective is Gene’s life experiences can make him an excellent and groundbreaking filmmaker.
Pompo's thought process is that when you’re popular and happy and are handed everything in life, you essentially have no ambition. A high school acquaintance of Gene’s, Alan Gardner, meets up with Gene during his film shoot. Alan works at a bank and hates his job. He doesn’t try or assert himself in any way. He also used to hang out with a group of kids that bullied Gene. As adults, Alan sees the passion in Gene as he’s in his element. He wants Gene to succeed and wants to be a part of it. Alan eventually finds a love for his work through Gene in a way that intertwines both of their careers.
It’s not that Pompo: The Cinephile doesn’t offer its own form of unpredictability, but you can mostly see where the film is going from the get-go. The scenes where Gene is editing are creatively executed. Gene kind of has this out of body experience where it’s this astral plane or cosmic version of himself in this empty, black abyss where he’s surrounded by reels and reels of his own film (it’s something like 72 hours of footage). He carries this massive blade that he uses to cut and splice to however he sees fit.
Pompo is produced by CLAP animation studio. The animation in the film is beautifully cel shaded with bright colors and heavy shadows. Its animation style is probably closest to Studio Ghibli or Studio Ponoc films. Pompo has that hand drawn aesthetic with just the right amount of visual effects to be eye-catching and extraordinary. In short, it’s gorgeous. With most recent films nearing or exceeding the three hour mark, it’s comical that Pompo thinks that sitting through a film that is over two hours long is a chore. She compares it to being bloated and fat and that it’s not a pretty sight. When Gene asks to use her screening room to watch a lengthy cinematic masterpiece, she comes in about halfway through and simply states, “I don’t want to watch the whole thing. I just want to taste a masterpiece.”
There’s something special about Pompo: The Cinephile that just speaks to you. Yes, the animation is stunning and you absolutely adore every character in the film. Martin Braddock’s pickup line about wanting to network socially is hilarious and Mystia is an incredible character; a talented actress that doesn’t let her success go to her head. But the animated film also speaks to both film and art lovers alike. Showing what was discarded in pursuit of your dreams is important to making a life changing film. Pompo’s sweet spot for a fully completed film is 90-minutes and Pompo: The Cinephile ends maybe thirty seconds after that. This makes you feel good and creative at the same time and is exceptional because of it.
© 2022 Chris Sawin