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Pompo: The Cinephile
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by Jay Seaver

"A family-friendly and surprisingly smart movie movie."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2021 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In an utterly meaningless coincidence, the animated adaptation of "Pompo: The Cinéphile" played the Fantasia Festival mere days after the first volume of the manga is released in North America, which I mention because, somewhat unusually, it seems to cover the exact same material, ending on a joke that I suspect screenwriter Takayuki Hirao took as a challenge. He may have had to work as hard as his protagonist to get there, but it by and large works out.

Said main character is not Joelle Davidovich "Pompo" Pomponett (voice of Konomi Kohara), B-movie producer and granddaughter of Nyallywood legend (and studio namesake) J.D. Peterzen, but her frazzled assistant Gene Fini (voice of Hiroya Shimizu), who spends as much time as he can manage watching what happens on Pompo's sets and soaking up what he can, hoping for an opportunity, though he doesn't expect the one his mercurial boss drops on him after he cuts a trailer for her latest monster movie: A straight drama script she's written and will produce, with legendary actor Martin Braddock (voice of Akio Otsuka) signed for one lead part and newcomer Nathalie Woodward (voice of Rinka Otani) being groomed for the other, with Pompo moving her in with frequent genre flick star Mystia (voice of Ai Kakuma) to learn the ropes. That doesn't make it easy on them, though, as Pompo's name on the screenplay doesn't mean she'll be any less exacting and demanding a producer.

That Pompo is a producer is an interesting choice, because it's not a well-understood job among laypeople (or even many film fans), and mostly portrayed in pop culture as the penny-pinchers or tasteless tyrants standing in the way of the director's art. Hirao (and presumably original manga-ka Shogo Sugitani) may have the story follow Gene and his point of view, but they are very much invested in presenting filmmaking as a team activity, with Pompo overseeing the process of making sure Gene gets what he needs and key members of the crew making suggestions he's wise to take to heart. It is, I suspect, fairly true-to-life in its procedural details and in how filmmaking is filled with challenges and opportunities to improvise within limits, mostly without needing to resort to full-fledged crises to advance the story.

The film's "Nyallywood" is modern and colorful but with enough old Hollywood flourishes to not seem particularly full of corporate charmlessness, with character designer Shingo Adachi retaining the looks that make the characters' nature clear on the first look, by and large: Pompo seems to have been tweaked to be more clearly a petite adult with loli taste in dresses than a teenager, but the dark circles around Gene's eyes and the way Nathalie still looks skittish even with a more confident haircut are defining while still giving room to emote. Hirao does a nice job of swinging from slapstick cartooning to cinema romance and back, and rises to the challenge of finding a way to make the editing process seem tense and fraught, especially since Gene sitting in front of a computer is not nearly as inherently visual as actually snipping and taping film.

It's during that process that the film seems to feel a bit rushed, finally inventing a crisis so that they can make the situation more precarious while also including crowdfunding as part of modern movie-making, and it doesn't quite fit. A lot of things get quietly extreme as the film goes on, such as Pompo drawing a straight line from suffering to artistic ability, or how the early bits of the editing sequence has Gene talking about how to create effects through cross-cutting (the sort of thing that can get a kid who likes movies eager to learn more) only to eventually devolve into him repeatedly hitting the delete key. They overbid somewhat on the greatness of the movie being made, too, acknowledging it's a played-out plot but more saying than showing that this is a "Nyascar"-quality picture.

Maybe that last line doesn't work otherwise, and the movie is built to get there. And I suspect that its target audience is school-age girls like my nieces who would really be into how Pompo is perky and fun-loving while still being exceptionally sharp, with Gene as a funny contrast, a group that might dig something a little more straightforward. It's fun for them as well as older film fans, and I'm curious to see if it will do well enough to adapt later stories.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34545&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/08/21 16:01:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Takayuki Hirao

Written by
  Takayuki Hirao

  Konomi Kohara
  Hiroya Shimizu
  Rinka Otani
  Akio ‘tsuka
  Ai Kakuma

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