Princess Raccoon (2005) Operetta Tanuki Goten
Directed by Seijun Suzuki
Starring Zhang Ziyi, J Odagiri, Hiroko Yakushimaru
First things first, this is a film that youll either love or hate, I honestly dont think theres much middle ground here.
Frantically edited, bursting with colour and filled with songs from start to finish with a mish-mash of styles ranging from opera to j-pop to rap and beyond. Cheaper than cheap special effects and gloriously, riotously lurid in every possible way
The actual plot comes straight of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet of course, add in a bit of Snow White but with a real Japanese twist. A human prince (J Odagiri) is banished from his homeland by his father who is completely obsessed with his own narcissism. Rescued by a raccoon princess, its not long before the pair fall in love despite the fact that man and raccoon cannot love each other and vice versa. Naturally the course of true love (particularly inter-species) doesnt run smoothly and death ensues, again and again and..
The majority of the film has a very theatrical feel, like watching a Kabuki show, loud brash and exaggerated. The odd bursts into the real world feel out of place but make use (as many Japanese films do) of the coastline. Though considering the simple but stylish artistic effects used throughout the rest of the film I dont really understand why they didnt use the same techniques for these sections.
The whole film has the depth of a pantomime but delves into Japanese myth and mystique, the raccoons as a species are not related in any way to the North American mammals, they are actually Tanuki or raccoon dogs. In Japanese mythology, the tanuki have the same magical properties as foxes, being able to transform their shape, even being able to appear in human form (these properties are also made use of in the Ghibli studio anime Pom Poko), the males are also noted for the rather large size of their testicles. It is in this human form that the prince falls for Princess Raccoon.
The tanuki are creatures who live with nature and lead a joyous existence but are always watchful of humans who are seen as a plague and a destructive force. Religion plays its part as well as the tanuki follow the traditional shinto buddhist beliefs while the humans show the influence of the West with a weird mix of Catholicism (which is used to summon evil) plus traditional beliefs.
Unlike Memoirs of a Geisha, there was no outcry with the casting of Zhang Ziyi as the tanuki princess, there could be several reasons for this but certainly the fact that in this romp she plays a princess who was invited to join the tanuki clan from Cathay (China), plus of course, the biggest issue with Memoirs was that Chinese actresses were playing that most Japanese of traditions, the geisha.
So in summing up, if you enjoy the lurid side of Japanese culture as seen in Kabuki and often in anime, if you can laugh with sheer joy at the ludicrous and at times banal lyrics of the songs, if you appreciate artistry with very little purpose but with a deep appreciation of Japanese culture then you will almost certainly enjoy Princess Raccoon. If not then youd be better off steering well clear of this insane pastiche.
Personally, I loved it.
BBFC rated PG.
Region 2 dvd released by Yume Pictures.
The transfer is great and extras include a fun making of doc and an exclusive UK interview with Seijun Suzuki, I was hoping the interview would have been about Princess Raccoon but it covers his career and work from his days with Shochiku and Nikkatsu upto present day, very interesting though.