Panda Diary -- Film Review

BOTTOM LINE: Kid-friendly documentary raises "panda-monium."

Pusan International Film Festival
Wide Angle

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"Panda Diary," a cute-as-a-button documentary, panders to people's fondness for furry animals. Director Tadashi Mori was privileged (or resourceful) enough to nuzzle right up to his subjects as he shuttles between a Japanese zoo and a Chinese reserve to show a few things we want to know about pandas.

Amusing and accessible even for preschool kids, it should ride on topical interest created by "Kung Fu Panda," which chop-socked its way to worldwide stardom. Children and nature channels will poach it, while commercial prospects also are good. The film's Japanese title is "A Pandaful Life."

If a proud panda dad were to make a home movie, it would look like this. The doting camera never strays even for a frame from its cuddly subjects -- 2-week-old junior in an incubator ... junior being suckled by mom ... junior's first attempt to wobble ... junior's first bamboo shoot -- and it's not just cubs but pandas of all ages that are captured close up in adorable poses. There is even panda pornography -- a blind date in which mating is arranged and anxiously watched over by a team of specialists.

One also learns what it means to be a "national treasure." A guided tour around the Giant Panda Breeding Center in China's Sichuan province reveals the creature comforts and human coddling required to keep them alive and munching.

The narration by Miho Kanno ("Sakuran," "Dolls") -- often in first person as Shu Hin, a panda born in Japan but sent back to China for breeding -- might be over-cute, but investing animals with human traits helps children empathize with their conditions.

A short animation sequence in the beginning offers a nutshell history of pandas' evolution from pre-Ice Age carnivorous bears to bamboo crunchers. However, the film soft-pedals its ecological message -- lamenting deforestation without seriously asking why, when and how the drastically reduced species could be resettled in their natural habitat. Also omitted is how these fluffy things have played a role in the adroit games of Sino-Japanese diplomacy.

Director: Tadashi Mori.
Producer: Teruki Matsumoto.
Sales agent: Shochiku.
No rating, 99 minutes.
Directors of photography: Yuji Kanazawa, Kadoyama Masaki.
Music: Saeko Suzuki with Tomishiro.
production: Shochiku Co., Pandaful Life Film Partners, Documentary Japan.
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