There are plenty of movies out there that go into the artistry of storytelling. Birdman is a movie that explores the craft of acting, Adaptation focuses on screenwriting, The Disaster Artist is a love letter to a beloved cult film, and the list goes on and on. It’s the kind of topic that tends to garner a lot of critical acclaim during awards season, if only because if there’s one thing that Hollywood loves more, it’s telling themselves that what they do is artistically beautiful and purposeful.
Pompo the Cinephile tends to follow the same path those aforementioned movies do. It’s a film about the art and the passion of filmmaking and all of the effort that goes into it. Yet as the movie went on, while those previous films all won me over with their character-focused drama and great performances, there was something missing here. Something wasn’t clicking with me despite all of the elements being present. And ultimately, while the film does have a clear abundance of love for cinema and the art of filmmaking that’s clearly evident by its cinematography, the final message of the movie is one that I am completely at odds against.
Pompo the Cinephile
Director: Takayuki Hirao
Release Date: April 27, 2022 (Limited Theatrical)
Gene Fini (Hiroya Shimizu/Christopher Trindade) is a production assistant for a legendary B-movie producer, Pompo (Konami Kohara/Brianna Gentililla). Pompo is all about making movies that are meant to entertain audiences, but she tasks Gene, who always wanted to make a movie, with creating an emotional drama. Gene is at first incredibly nervous about the task, especially when he has to work with the legendary actor Martin Braddock (Akio Ohtsuka/Kenneth Cavett), who’s basically Marlon Brando, and a first-time actress named Natalie (Rinka Otani/Jackie Lastra), who always dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress. Will Gene be able to uphold his artistic vision despite all of the complications that arise from the project?
Pompo the Cinephile is a film that should be more interesting than it is. The film is allegedly about the trials and tribulations of making a film, but throughout its runtime, there were hardly any moments that I would consider to be difficult. We have a peeking glance at a lot of the elements that go into making a film, like location scouting, trying to assemble a crew for reshoots, and securing funding for the film, but all of them are surface-level readings of it. As someone who has been involved in a handful of film productions, the issues that were faced during the production feel like non-issues, only further proven by the fact that most problems are resolved within the scene they’re introduced.
The film is actually an adaptation of a six-volume manga series and it’s one that I would be genuinely interested in reading. The film introduces a lot of interesting characters, like the bombastic but immaculate actor Braddock whom you want to spend more time with but the film just doesn’t have enough time to go into. Most characters, outside of Gene and Pompo, hardly get enough screentime and make you think that this was a heavily truncated adaptation, which it was. Like, without a doubt.
One of the central codas of the film, as well as the original series, is Pompo’s opinions about filmmaking. Films should generate excitement and keep an audience’s interest, but the running theme weirdly enough is about movie length. Pompo is adamant that 90 minutes is the perfect runtime for a movie and movies shouldn’t exceed two hours. That’s such a core tenet of Pompo the Cinephile not only does it drive the conflict of the third act, but the movie itself is exactly 90 minutes long (not counting credits).
I respect the fact that the movie went by its own rules and wasn’t hypocritical, but the negative side of the equation is that a lot of the conflict and characters don’t feel fleshed out. The film preaches that movies that are over two hours don’t respect their audience’s time, which is fair, but it also gives a backhanded insult to amazing movies that go beyond that time restraint. It leaves kind of a weird taste in your mouth, like Pompo the Cinephile thinks it’s superior to movies that are “too long.”
I admit that there are a lot of ideological differences that I do have with the movie because of these techniques. Like Gene, I had a lot of interest in film once I reached high school and loved to see movies just for the sake of them. Gene is a solid POV character for the audience, a person who has a genuine love for something that they want to share with the world. That’s depicted through his editing montages, which just look great and that’s true for a lot of the movie. The shots and animation are great and do a lot to make the movie interesting to watch.
But Gene is also kind of a poor character for us to root for. In an interview promoting the film, Hirao stated that he wanted to make Pompo the Cinephile “the filmmaking version of Whiplash” which sends red sirens throughout my mind. Whiplash, an outstanding movie, is about people that shouldn’t be emulated. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller are two obsessive people that are ultimately self-destructive and whose dedication to their work is dangerous, unhealthy, and something that shouldn’t be emulated.
And that’s why the film never clicked with me. The movie spends most of its runtime looking at the sheer passion and love that Gene has for movies but also paints his sacrifices as necessary. He had no friends in high school, isolated himself from his family, and even risked his own health for the sake of his art. Some may consider that dedication something to be idolized, but ethically I can’t support it. The film’s resolution is nothing like Whiplash’s thankfully, but Pompo the Cinephile’s weird obsession about doing whatever it takes to reach your dreams and framing it as a feel-good story is the same kind of logic that I see justifying crunch culture in the world of video games.
As a film, Pompo the Cinephile is exciting to watch. The animation is bouncy, the color palette is bright and eye-catching, and the performances are great, especially for Gene and Natalie, whose Japanese voice actors are debuting with this film. The editing sequences, as I said before, are a technicolor wonder for the eyes, and if the movie had more of these scenes then I would probably be more favorable to it. But movies aren’t just sights and sounds. They’re stories that have meaning and themes and those themes can define an entire experience. Put it simply, the message of Pompo the Cinephile is one I have a myriad of problems with.
Of course, that’s an entirely subjective take on it. Objectively, the Pompo the Cinephile has a lot of the hallmarks that would make an anime feature film successful. But this is not an objective review of the movie. It’s a review that I’m writing and I can’t suspend my own beliefs if I think the movie is sending a bad message. You may completely disagree with me and love the film, and it’s a cute film that, separated from its morals, is one that I can recommend. As a complete package, Pompo the Cinephile is a movie that I can’t fully get behind, as much as I want to.