As long as there are movies, there will probably be movies about people who make movies. (“Write what you know,” the saying goes.) The question is only whether these films will take a realistic view of the industry, showing the warts and all (which usually means just more warts), or whether they show Hollywood in a favorable, often fantastical light.
“Pompo the Cinephile,” the new anime feature from Takayuki Hirao (“Magical Sisters Yoyo and Nene”), is not a film about warts. It’s a warm hug of a behind-the-scenes motion picture, where the entertainment industry is full of producers who are desperate to mold superstars out of actors with no experience and to take chances on first-time directors and give them final cut, even if it nearly bankrupts the production, just because they’re so passionate about the project.
And while that affectionate view of Hollywood — it’s such a cuddly industry in this film that it’s called “Nyallywood,” and the stars on the walk of fame are in the shape of cats — is clearly naïve, one can’t help but wonder if a point is being made. Surely everyone who makes a movie is at least a little naïve themselves.
“Welcome to the world of dreams and madness,” the title character declares, because this business is tailor-made for dreamers and oddballs. “Pompo” takes place in a world where people love movies so much they can’t help but make them, regardless of how practical that is, and on that level it can’t help but be a little relatable.
Pompo, voiced by Konomi Kohara, is a young super-producer who makes popcorn B-movies, but they’re all pretty good, and they’re all hits. “Making a tearjerker moving is easy,” she explains. “Making a silly movie moving takes genius.” She also believes that all movies should be 90 minutes long, and the makers of this 90-minute movie clearly agree with her.
Her new personal assistant, Gene Fini (Hiroya Shimizu), has only two modes: quietly awkward and wildly enthusiastic. He refuses even to admit that he dreams of making movies, so it’s a surprise when Pompo asks him to edit the 15-second trailer for her new giant killer-octopus movie, and an even bigger surprise when — after he does a pretty good job — she asks him to direct an arthouse feature she’s written about a dejected orchestra composer rekindling his love of life with a young muse in the Swiss Alps.
It is to the credit of “Pompo the Cinephile” that everyone freely admits that the premise of this fake film is Oscar-bait hokum, adding only that the depth of the characters makes up for the hackneyed premise. It’s a clever “Get Out of Jail” free card for a movie about a movie to acknowledge that the fictional film being shot doesn’t look great, whilst simultaneously assuring us that no, really, if we watched the whole thing it would probably win us over.
For his leads, Gene enlists an iconic movie star who comes out of a decade-long retirement and an actress plucked from obscurity. They all fly to the Alps, make clever use of fog and goats, and everything’s just ducky until finally Gene winds up with 72 hours of footage to edit together, and he realizes just how unbelievably difficult that task will be.
The first half of “Pompo the Cinephile” is a cheerful but unremarkable Hollywood fantasy, but the second half is a thoughtful treatise about killing your darlings. Gene’s first edit of the film takes 90 minutes to get to the beginning of the second act, so he’s got to find a way to admit to himself that not every moment is necessary, not every scene is vital, and sometimes longer is just longer. “Pompo” reveals itself to be a film about why not every single thing you do as an artist is special, and how admitting that can lead to stronger, more efficient storytelling.
Case in point: even at a brisk 90 minutes, “Pompo the Cinephile” manages to feel a little padded. Gene realizes the film is missing an important scene and that raising money for reshoots is nearly impossible. Of course, ordinarily, major productions like these would factor reshoots into the budget beforehand, something Pompo would no doubt be familiar with, but the film takes us down this little rabbit hole anyway, shoehorning in a mildly enjoyable subplot about a banker in a quarter-life crisis who decides to lay it all on the line in the name of funding cinema.
There’s no denying that “Pompo the Cinephile” has a good heart, even when it’s being a little brusque about its philosophies. (Pompo argues that Giuseppe Tornatore’s beloved “Cinema Paradiso” is too damn long and look, maybe she’s right, but — OK, OK, she’s kinda right.) This anime is hardly a masterwork of Hollywood insider filmmaking, and it’s certainly not interested in the seedy underbelly of the industry. But it’s a sweet film about how wonderful it would be to have someone truly support your artistic vision, and that’s a beautiful thing to fantasize about, or if you’re truly lucky, to have.
“Pompo the Cinephile” opens in US theaters April 29.