Both the glamour and the difficulties of film-making are covered in Takayuki Hirao’s film-loving animation feature. Adapted from a manga series, the film is set in the fictional Nyallywood, a more colourful stand-in for the real Hollywood, complete with sunshine, rows of palm trees and a boulevard of stars. What makes this portrait of movie studios more surreal is Pompo herself. A studio executive in the body of a petite child prodigy – she saunters around in pigtails and a sailor dress – Pompo specialises in B movies, the kind of flicks that would have a sexy starlet terrorised by sharks.
All of this changes, however, when Pompo decides to take a chance on Gene, a first-time director, and an ingenue named Natalie Woodward – get the reference? – in a seriously minded project about ageing, art and loss. As the film switches gears from an animated reimagination of Hollywood to an inspirational parable on the magic of cinema, the tone turns cloyingly saccharine, pushing hollow maxims such as how damaged people make better artists, or that a film should be no longer than 90 minutes.
While occasionally emphasising that film-making is a collaborative endeavour, this is a cliche-ridden affair, reiterating the myth of the genius director whose pursuit of perfection is worth the detrimental effects it has on the cast, the crew and even the film-maker himself. Repetitive scenes of Gene’s struggles to edit his film are also woefully prosaic, a missed opportunity in a medium that affords visual experimentation. Considering how animes such as Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress have tackled the gilded cage of film-making with a lot more nuance and imagination, the chicken-soup-for-the-soul approach of Pompo the Cinephile feels like, well, chickening out.