Review by Sean Boelman
Films about filmmaking are often delightful for those who have a love for the cinema, having led to some of the finest movies ever made (just see Sunset Boulevard or La La Land for some easy examples), but there has to be something else in the equation for it to stand out. Unfortunately, Pompo the Cinephile just doesn’t have a compelling enough story outside its meta elements to truly work.
As the title suggests, this is a film that is made for people who are deeply invested in the silver screen, meaning that casual moviegoers will likely be put off by the extent to which this is obsessed with filmmaking. It tells the story of a production assistant who gets his first chance to direct a movie when a famous producer entrusts him with her beloved script, and the result is as chaotic as one would expect.
However, for anyone hoping that this would be a satire in the style of The Producers that lampoons the excesses of the industry will be sorely disappointed, as it gets too caught up in being an ode to the movie-making process. It is possible to show admiration for an institution without going into outright adulation, and the film fails to do so.
There is some solid meta humor to be found in the movie, but for the most part, it’s just pretty flat. The film perhaps could have made up for its lack of humor with a strong emotionally resonant core, but it doesn’t have that either. All we get is a bunch of sentimental dribble about the magic of the movies.
Another one of the issues with the movie is the overwhelming amount of characters. The script tries to make us care about everyone involved in the production, but trying to do so in a mere ninety minutes is overwhelming. Had this been a series, they may have been able to do something interesting with these characters, but this feature feels overstuffed and should have been narrowed down.
The voice cast of the Japanese-language version of the film is very professional and efficient, but nothing particularly memorable. They do a decent job of bringing some of the quirks of the characters to life, but they’re also very clearly all playing to archetypes. Furthermore, unlike many imports, the voice cast does not feature any huge stars.
Visually, the movie is energetic, and the anime style is obviously created to pay homage to the manga on which the film is based, but one is left wishing that this could have done more. Compared to a lot of other anime movies, this one is pretty grounded, and it would have been nice to see them do something a bit more fanciful with the medium.
Pompo the Cinephile has a premise that should be absolute catnip to film-lovers everywhere but is missing that spark to truly make it stand out. It’s definitely not a movie that is lacking in energy, although it doesn’t have the narrative drive to be compelling.
Pompo the Cinephile opens in theaters on April 29 after special event screenings on April 27 and 28.