Cinephilia is the word used to label a passion for cinema. As ‘Pompo: The Cinephile’ exhibits, having a passion for cinema means so much more than just loving film and being an admirer of Goddard or Fellini. What it really means is to feel cinema, to live by it - warts and all.
‘Pompo: The Cinephile’ is the latest anime feature written and directed by Takayuki Hirao, and it certainly delivers on the title as a love letter to Tinseltown and the body of work that often goes unnoticed behind the scenes of your favourite films. Based on the manga series of the same name, Pompo (Konomi Kohara) is a young producer who grew up loving cinema, and was taught everything she knows by her Grandfather, the now-retired legend of studio productions Peterzen of Peterzen Studios. Her young assistant, Gene Fini (Hiroya Shimizu), is an introverted and awkward aspiring filmmaker, who gets the chance of a lifetime when asked by Pompo if he’ll direct her magnum opus script. Gene doesn’t know the first thing about being a big-time director, but after proving himself worthy cutting a B-movie trailer for Pompo, and with the aide of his densely journaled notebook of observations on set, he is ready to go.
As a critic, it can be easy to deride a studio or a director when things fall apart. What Pompo brings to this film, besides her energy, is the understanding and appreciation that part of being in charge is spotting talent - and knowing what to do with it. Pompo brings in Nathalie (Rinka Ōtani) to star in her film, a first-time actor who will need to hold her own, and perhaps even more importantly, bring out the best in famed and celebrated actor, Martin (Akio Ōtsuka). Pompo is careful in constructing her team, putting her faith in not just veteran actors, but young starry-eyed hopefuls.
She sees something in them that they do not even see in themselves. Gene thus far has witnessed everything from the sidelines, scribbling in his notebook and too afraid to take a chance, or perhaps not even knowing how. He is everything you might expect from a nerdy film student. A ‘Taxi Driver’ phone background, an obsession with old and long films, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema. However, what Pompo sees might be cut from the same cloth, but the potential is endless. As she puts it when trying to convince him to take on the project, “I believe in you because you are a social misfit, and that means you create your own reality.”
Isn’t that what we all love about cinema? The best films have a way of never leaving your mind - and what’s more, you somehow gravitate towards them because you start to see yourself in them. It’s this very adage that allows Gene to free himself when making that original trailer, and Hirao shows this as a ‘Minority Report’-style conductor, seeing things in the film strips that we mere mortals could only dream of.
The best films have a way of never leaving your mind - and what’s more, you somehow gravitate towards them because you start to see yourself in them. It’s this very adage that allows Gene to free himself.
This scene in particular highlights the colour and energy with which ‘Pompo The Cinephile’ approaches its own love of cinema. Everything in “Nyallywood” just seems to be full to the brim with heavenly bliss. From the depths of despair, even when things might not be running so rosy, Pompo and the team always seem to find the joy of making movies. It’s a lesson that we can all learn from, even more so as a film critic.
There was a viral interview circulating recently of Ethan Hawke, lamenting how nobody seems to appreciate the artists behind everything we see on screen, how people will quickly dismiss a film because of preconceived ideas, never realising how much care and love people put into their work. Pompo as a producer and as the titular cinephile takes this completely on board, and so much credit needs to be given to director Hirao for this. Even though this is based on a series, Hirao clearly loves cinema, and he puts as much of that as he can into this film.
This, unfortunately, does ever so slightly prevent ‘Pompo The Cinephile’ from being appreciated by a wider audience. Afraid that audiences are bored with anything over 90 minutes, Pompo makes it very clear that her film must not tick even one minute over, and intentionally so too does ‘Pompo The Cinephile’. However, so much of this runtime is taken up by Gene editing the picture, or Pompo trying to get the film financed. These particular set pieces hold almost all of the tension in the film, and it’s where all the lessons for the characters are learnt and their arcs completed. That being said, I fear that anyone with little interest in the magic behind the movies will won’t gain much from these lessons.
For cinephiles everywhere, ‘Pompo The Cinephile’ will be viewed as a sweet, energetic and adoring embrace to the world of film. For others, it should still be appreciated for what is - a visually engrossing and fun anime that’s not afraid of being itself.