Though it’s poor journalistic form to cite Wikipedia as a source of information, I’d recommend visiting the Free Encyclopedia’s page on tanuki (or “Japanese raccoon dog”) if you plan on seeing the Studio Ghibli feature Pom Poko (1994) at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week. The page provides a useful basic overview of the subject, which Pom Poko doesn’t, since it assumes a basic understanding of Japanese history and folklore. In fact, the film makes so many references to these subjects that non-Japanese spectators practically require footnotes to appreciate it. This would help explain the movie’s low profile in the U.S. compared to other Ghibli releases—as would the prominence of the main characters’ testicles in the visual design.
Tanuki are popular mythological characters in their native Japan: statues and figurines depicting their likeness are almost as common as those of the maneki-neko (“good fortune cat”). Like the Greek god Pan, they represent an earthy, boisterous sensibility. The popular representation emphasizes their hard-partying nature through big bellies and scrotums (too bad this song wasn’t included in the English-language version), and they’re often shown carrying sake bottles.