In this kitschy, comical fantasy set in present-day Kyoto, events unfold in the course of a single Saturday, with the ancient city’s famous Gion Festival scheduled for the following day.
A mysterious character wearing a heavy black cape and an endearing tanuki raccoon-dog mask has been wandering the city for the past year. Although sightings initially prompted calls to the police, it soon became clear that Ponpoko Mask, as the furtive presence came to be called, was dedicated to helping animals and persons in need, and since then he has become quite the popular figure about town.
Early on Saturday morning, Ponpoko Mask asks Kowada, the young protagonist of the tale, to become his successor. Kowada is in his second year at a chemical firm, where he works in the research division developing food-packaging film. On Friday night he was out late at a farewell bash for the head of his division, Director Gotō, who is moving to the head office in Tokyo. Having had too much to drink, Kowada slept rough, and it is when he wakes up the next morning that Ponpoko Mask approaches him. A self-avowed slacker, Kowada likes nothing better than to spend his days off lolling about at home doing nothing, and summarily dismisses the idea of taking over as Ponpoko Mask. Indeed, much of the appeal of this slacker fantasy is that its protagonist does little to exert himself and experiences no real adventure to speak of in the course of the story.
Ponpoko Mask subsequently becomes the target of a mysterious organization engaged in bootlegging. The leader of this secret society, described as the spitting image of an alpaca, has asked private-eye Uramoto, self-avowed “world’s laziest detective,” to track down and capture Ponpoko Mask in order to learn his true identity. Exhausted from trying to elude his pursuers, Ponpoko Mask falls asleep, giving Kowada a chance to discover that he is in fact Director Gotō. Kowada dons his cape and mask and emerges onto the street only to quickly fall into the hands of the secret society.
It is in fact Hachibei Myōjin, a tanuki god who has assumed the form of a human child, who put the secret society onto Ponpoko Mask’s trail. Since the mysterious character was going around claiming to be a servant of Hachibei, the tanuki god decided to take him at his word: he summoned Ponpoko Mask to tidy up his living quarters, which had not been properly cleaned in ten years. Though he is not the true Ponpoko Mask, Kowada begrudgingly does the job. To thank him for his service, Hachibei then issues orders for everyone in town to become Ponpoko Masks. The secret society responds expeditiously and the festival site that night overflows with the masked figures.
Deftly weaving Kyoto’s legendary sights and lore into the narrative, author Tomihiko Morimi creates a captivating imaginary world that will warm readers’ hearts.