Fantasia Film Festival Review: Pompo: The Cinéphile (2021)

Featured image: Pompo in Pompo: The Cinéphile. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)

Written and directed by Takayuki Hirao. Starring Tomomi Kohara, Akio Otsuka, Hiroya Shimizu. Runtime 1hr 34 min. Pompo: The Cinéphile had its North American Premiere in person at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 9.

Japanese cinema was one of the highlights of the Fantasia Film Festival, as one of 30 Japanese films playing at the festival to celebrate its 25th year. I was able to enjoy two vastly different films from Japan, first with Tokyo Revengers, a mix of Japanese action and time travel in a heartwarming package, based on a Japanese manga.

Pompo: The Cinéphile is a film about a young producing prodigy in the fictional Nyallywood, the titular Pompo, who is granddaughter to a producing titan. She has an affinity for mindless B-movies; but has a coveted eye for spotting talent. That talent comes in the form of her assistant Gene, a production assistant content to fade into the background on sets, simply soaking up all knowledge, from actors, directors, writers… He wants to learn it all. He has a great appreciation for film, and a magical eye for directing that Pompo is adamant to bring out in him.

If it’s one thing that both Pompo: The Cinéphile and Tokyo Revengers have in common, it’s a ton of heart. Both films wear their hearts on their sleeves and that’s enlightening to see. In Pompo, it’s exaggerated fun (of course, as it’s anime), and I found it fascinating as a love letter to filmmaking. It’s a love letter to “live action filmmaking,” despite being animated. This begs the question: If someone makes a film in an animated movie, does it make that film-inside-the-film an animated movie? Or is it live action?

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Pompo in Pompo: The Cinéphile. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)

Here, the film feels live-action as everything is realistic, despite the usual over-the-top anime staples. I think the heart is most present because these creatives in the film believe in each other so much on the film set. The general premise here is that Pompo writes a script that’s a shoe-in for the Nyademy Awards race, but she wants Gene to direct it, because she knows he loves these kinds of films more than her.

You see, Pompo loves a quick story that’s wrapped up in 90 minutes, hating longer films since her grandfather made her sit through them. As a film geek, Gene can appreciate the 3 or 4-hour films. I love how that gets worked into the story, and I was drawn to both characters because I saw myself in her love for shorter films, but I’ve loved most of the longer films I’ve seen.

I found Gene’s eye for everything rather charming, and his chemistry with their lead of their film, Natalie Woodward, is great. She’s also a first-time actress (like he is a first-time director), and they’re fun to watch work together. The star of their Oscar-bait film is Martin Braddock, a retired actor returning for this film, and it’s believable in voice work and mannerisms that he’s good at acting. He’s on the other side of his career; and watching the old and new mesh is refreshing.

One of the film’s most exciting moments is during the shoot where the crew works together to film an impromptu scene where everybody collaborates, bounces ideas off each other and make the scene better. It’s a thrilling moment like this that make me love watching films and learning more about the filmmaking process. You can tell the same can be said for these characters, and especially the film’s writer and director Takayuki Hirao, who so obviously has an obvious appreciation for filmmaking. It’s what makes Pompo: The Cinéphile a love letter, above all else, signed passionately by these characters trying to make the best film possible.

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Gene in Pompo: The Cinéphile. (Courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival.)

The film doesn’t sugar coat the less sexy parts of the filmmaking process, either, as Gene goes through the gruelling process of editing the film and finding what the film means. The cast and crew are all dreamers and that’s what the film is about at the end of the day. It’s also about the sacrifices you have to make to follow those dreams and passions, and always making sure you still have that sound in your heart and you’re doing something that makes you happy.

These are great aspects explored through Gene as he learns about himself, as well as Natalie and enters this filmmaking world. It’s moving knowing Pompo saw something in them, and she’s such a great character herself. She’s a firecracker – someone who you wouldn’t want to cross, but she believes in her people with everything she has. She has some funny moments, and is the energy of this film, and she inspires.

It inspired me to create as soon as it was finished; and I think others will have that reaction, too. There are so many great filmmaking tidbits and quotes that completely make you want to create something new and chase that feeling these characters have during the film.

Score: 88/100

Pompo: The Cinéphile had its North American Premiere in person at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 9.

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