Innocent hippies and young children everywhere can be expected to enjoy Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko, a rather bizarre story from famed Studio Ghibli and written and directed by Isao Takahata (Hotaru no haka/Grave of the Fireflies, Rupan sansei/Lupin III). It tells the story of some lovable yet fierce Tanuki, the "racoon-dogs" of Japan, who are being chased out of their homes by urban development.
This story has a PG rating which stems from basically two elements; first, there is continual (if minor) violence from the tanuki, as well as continual incitement by some of the tanuki to wage open war against the humans, and they regularly engage in what can only literally be termed acts of terrorism. The other is that the real wild tanuki have enormous testicles, which are not only depicted here, but which the mythical tanuki (more on this in a moment) can inflate and use as both a weapon and means of transport. You see, the Japanese tradition includes the idea that some animals have supernatural abilities which humans do not normally witness in the modern era (at least, not where their experience can be corroborated.) Some tanuki in particular (along with, as the movie mentions, foxes) are said to be able to change their shape. In this anime, this is heavily exploited. The ball bags themselves are translated, instead of testicles, to "pouch", but amazingly the video made it to the U.S. courtesy of Disney without being cut! It's hard to imagine that a children's movie featuring racoon-dogs striking people with massively inflated scrotums could make it here without substantial editing. More amusingly, any time you'd be able to see their sack, it's drawn in almost lovingly, with the fetististic attention to detail that so typifies anime, and Japanese art in general.
Also unlike the typical children's movie in the U.S., the story does not have a shiny happy ending in which everything is okay. It's not a horribly sad ending that puts you under the covers for a week, as if it were a French romance or something, but it doesn't have that obsessive need for everything to work out all right. Interestingly, the need or lack thereof for a happy ending is a major distinguishing factor between Takahata and Studio Ghibli's other prominent celebrity and really one of the brightest stars in anime period, Hayao Miyazaki. Having these two producers in the same studio therefore offers a kind of balance between boundless optimism (like, say, My Neighbor Totoro) and utter reality (like Grave of the Fireflies.)
Another striking feature of this film is the close resemblance between the plight and behavior of the animals and our own situation. The tanuki even organize demonstrations, in which they change their shape to look like ghosts and demons and go out to frighten the humans. It's unclear precisely what Takahata is attempting to accomplish here, as the tanuki's efforts are not entirely successful, but he is obviously trying to send some kind of message beyond the obvious one in which environmental destruction is decried.