Pompo the Cinephile combines anime stylings with one of the year’s sharpest scripts to deliver an inspiring story that anyone who loves movies can appreciate.
Pompo the Cinephile is an anime film adaptation of the Japanese manga series of the same name, and a film I was lucky enough to have playing near me in its limited theatrical run. I know nothing about the manga, but similarly to Jujutsu Kaisen 0, I wanted to go out and see how much appeal this adaptation could have for a wider audience. The film takes place in the fictional town of Nyallywood, an alternate version of Hollywood … not really sure what they’re going for there, but whatever. Operating in Nyallywood is Pompo (Konomi Kohara), who’s found success producing B movies with wide audience appeal. Her meek assistant Gene (Hiroya Shimizu) is passionate and knowledgeable about film, but he’s yet to find any real fulfillment in his life. That is, until Pompo hires him to direct and edit a film based on her latest script, thrusting him into the world of moviemaking alongside hopeful new actress Nathalie Woodward (Rinka Ōtani).
On the surface, Pompo the Cinephile doesn’t sound like anything that extraordinary, nor does it seem like it would really distinguish itself from plenty of other stories about aspiring artists. But while the very basic plot isn’t amazing, the ins and outs of how this film explores such themes are. This is one of the best scripts with some of the most astute, poignant dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. So many lines center around the nature of dreams, creation, entertainment, happiness, and how they all intersect, dive into what makes film so inspiring for both audiences and those who take part in the craft. Most of all, Pompo the Cinephile understands how important film is in understanding yourself and how seemingly different experiences and people can all find something so similar between one another through the lens of cinema. Every facet of filmmaking, from the directing, writing, shooting, acting, and editing, is given such a loving tribute that reminds you of just how miraculous the creation of pretty much any movie is. The job of editing a film in particular is shown in great detail as being both excitingly rewarding and demandingly stressful.
Pompo the Cinephile channels its appreciation for film into a very likeable, if eccentric, cast of characters. Though Pompo is the titular character, Gene is the heart of the story, and you effortlessly buy his gradual change from an awkward, hopeless, bumbling assistant, to the still-awkward but determined, headstrong director he dreamed of being. When you hear him passionately talk about the ins and outs of his favorite films and display his expertise as he directs and edits, all with a level of eloquence that betrays his more bumbling demeanor, it’s impossible to not get sucked into his dreams yourself. Even when it looks like he’s getting an ego over his vision for his film, when you see where he’s coming from and why it’s so important for him to get everything the way he needs it, you root for him to succeed even more. He’s learning more about himself than potentially ever before by making and editing this movie, and so he realizes that he needs to frame it in a way that reflects that evolving core of himself. Otherwise, he would be doing both himself and the film a disservice.
Pompo herself is a great balancing act as a character. She’s very full of herself and a little spoiled, but she’s never mean or malicious. She’s boastful of her own success and a bit narrow-minded over what a film needs, but she clearly cares about the dreams of others and outwardly tries to prop them up. And she’s so convincing in how she knows what she’s doing and how the industry works that you can buy why she’d take such a big gamble on Gene. Nathalie gets a decent amount of time devoted to her backstory and gives us the perspective of a nervous, aspiring young actress who learns to come into her own. Other characters, like the film’s star Martin Braddock (Akio Ōtsuka) and Gene’s old friend-turned-businessman Alan Gardner (Ryūichi Kijima), either go against the unlikeable archetypes they so easily could have fallen into or are given refreshing iterations of arcs that we’ve seen done to death. Gardner at one point must convince his business to fund Gene’s movie, and his way of going about it should make even the most hardened of hearts see the value in financially supporting art like this.
Though, at first glance, you may wonder what about Pompo the Cinephile lends itself to the medium of animation, as soon as you see how it visually illustrates the artistry of filmmaking and the mindsets of the cast and crew involved, you quickly see how this style is justified. From black voids with giant film reels to some of the more outlandish character designs that fit their personalities, this story is told in a way that really lends itself to anime … maybe to a fault, as there are instances of a few anime tropes I’ve never liked, mainly excessively wacky reactions to shocking news, or bits of heightened melodrama over small issues not warranting it. These are the primary reasons why I could see some people not enjoying Pompo the Cinephile, especially if they’ve never been particularly fond of anime. But for me, the comedic misses don’t overshadow the charm of the characters or the creativity of the presentation, and they’re made up for with the large number of jokes and visual gags that had me chuckling quite often.
The ending to Pompo the Cinephile is a tad cliché, but it earns the right to go that route with how sharply written and infectiously investing it is up until that point. The wild humor and occasionally extreme animation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and honestly, it’s not always mine either. But the many, many areas where the film works are so strong and speak so profoundly to me that it’s all more than worth it. Anyone with a deep appreciation for cinema, from audience members to directors and anyone in between, should at the very least find something deeply moving in this anime adaptation. As both a story about a man chasing his dreams and a love letter to a medium we all love, Pompo the Cinephile wholly delivers. The film is so good that I don’t even mind having had the most obnoxious theatrical experience ever while watching it. About an hour in, a group of people showed up in the empty theater and proceeded to stomp up and down the stairs, talk loudly, and at one point even start playing music on their phones. How ironic that my experience watching a film about appreciating cinema would be nearly ruined by those who clearly don’t respect it …
Pompo the Cinephile was released in select US theaters on April 29, 2022, and will be available on Apple TV, Google Play, and Blu-Ray/DVD soon. The film will be released at selected cinemas in the UK in Japanese with English subtitles from June 29, and with an English-language dub from June 30.