The anime exception to the rule that “If you can tell a story more easily without animation, why animate?” is given a pretty serious test by “Pompo the Cinephile,” a movie about the magic of the movies.
Sure, it was based on a manga (graphic novel), so it’s already anime-adjacent.” But this film, titled “Eiga Daisuki Pompo-san” in Japan, is a fairly conventional inside-a-film-production dramedy — paying lip service to film as “art,” but celebrating B-movies, and featuring a movie within a movie with just a whiff of “A Star is Born” to its set up.
The anime touches include shy, wrapped-too-tight “kids” — one given her big break, the other a production assistant abruptly handed directing duties by an impulsive kewpie-doll pixie studio chief (with the voice to match). Characters shriek — aurally and visually — and take the vapors over this mistake, that shocking piece of good fortune. “Those big anime eyes” that Robin Williams jokes about in the Hollywood animation “Robots” are everywhere, and there’s a lot of music.
And the setting is an alternate anime reality of “Nyallywood,” where the Nyallywood Awards are Oscar statuettes with cat heads. Hellooooo kitty.
But the story is perfectly mundane. Green newcomers get their big break and work with a legendary actor on location in Switzerland. We’re treated to the shooting of a movie, editing a movie, fretting over location budgets and reshoots and an old timer’s advice that to be a great director, one has to find ways to sing “your aria,” that showpiece that composers build into their operas and that give the singers their best chance to show off. All of these are familiar tropes in “magic of making movies” movies. A classic one is even referenced, and ridiculed as “too long” here — “Cinema Paradiso.”
Gene Fini (voiced by Hiroya Shimizu) is the shy and apprehensive production assistant to studio boss Pomponette (a flower), “Pompo” for short. She’s a flatly-designed high-pitched, highly-strung redhead who inherited her B-movie empire from her grandfather, who still occasionally drops by to see that “the screen is filled with cute asses.” Pompo — voiced by Konomi Kohara — got her basic philosophy of movies from him.
“As long as the lead actress is attractive, it’s a good movie,” she preaches.
Films need to run about 90 minutes. Going longer is “insulting” the audience. A shot at Marvel and the Potter pictures?
A typical film from Peterzen Studios was “Guns Akimbo” in the past, and is “Marine” today. It’s a creature feature with a curvaceous, bikini-clad surfing heroine who confronts a sea monster. It stars studio “It” girl Mystia (Ai Kukama). Gene is delivering coffee and donuts to this production, frantically taking notes of everything he sees to understand how a film set works.
Bleary-eyed and frazzled, Gene sees one of those perfect cinematic moments — a pretty young woman splashing in a puddle at a crosswalk — on his way into the office. That young woman turns out to be an aspiring actress. That young woman just auditioned for Pompo.
And despite thinking she’d incompetently blown her chance, despite Gene being late for work and missing that audition, Pompo decides to write a script pairing up this meek newbie Natalie Woodward (Rinka Ôtani) with screen icon Martin Braddock (Akio Ōtsuka) .
“Meister” will be about an exacting, legendary conductor touched by meeting a not-so-manic-pixie-dreamgirl. And after letting Gene edit the trailer to “Marine,” Pompo decides to make him a director.
Epiphanies come during the agonizing process of editing, Pompo’s director-grandpa revels in the pleasures of editing on old fashioned celluloid and scenes are rethought out in ways that show Gene has an eye, all “inside the movies” conventions common to “making my first movie/follow my dream” stories.
But the animation is gorgeous and not particularly anime-jerky, with multi-plane camera shots that take us through clouds and into the Alps, beautiful cityscapes and dazzling split-screen bits during Gene’s editing nightmare — 72 hours of footage that must be turned into a film “no longer than 90 minutes.”
I still don’t see why this not-that-fantastical fantasy needed to be animated, and no, “just because it’s a manga” is not reason enough. It’s nobody’s idea of a deep dive into making movies, and not even a particularly entertaining take on the subject.
But it panders to cinephiles in some pleasant ways, has attractive leads and doesn’t go much over 90 minutes. So it must be “good,” right?
Rating: unrated, mild profanity, leering bikini sequences commented on lasciviously
Cast: The voices of Rinka Ôtani, Hiroya Shimizu, Konomi Kohara, Ai Kukama and Akio Ōtsuka.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Takayuki Hirao, based on a manga by
Shôgo Sugitani. A GKids release.
Running time: 1:34