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One hilarious thing I'll say off the top, is I'm not the biggest Seisun Suzuki fan. I've actually seen a fair number of his works (thanks to a retrospective the film festival had) and I found his films just a wee too Yakuza-driven for my tastes. So, I went into Princess Raccoon wary of what I was going to see. Boy! Was I knocked out! 'Raccoon' is Suzuki's attempt at a musical, using the elements of Japanese opera mixed in with many modern elements (both Audial and Visual), Raccoon is a treat from start to finish. The lead actor, Joe Ogdari, proves that he's one of the hottest actors in Japan these days in this role. I have to admire that the younger Japanese actors still take roles that take place in Feudal-times Japan, dressing up in Samurai gear to full effect. The story itself does get a bit confusing, if you don't follow it really closely, but even if you don't, prepare yourself for the treasures that Princess Raccoon has.
I use "Princess Raccoon" (to give the film its not-quite accurate
English title) as a litmus test for my friends' sense of humour. It
either leaves them cold and baffled - as it clearly did several other
commentators on this site - or results in doubled-up laughter,
unassailably huge grins and occasional gasps of admiration.
The laughter comes from the film's consummate mixture of parodies in contemporary style. Targets include a bouquet of Japanese and Western classical stage drama forms, from Kabuki to Late Shakespearian and Spanish renaissance Christian fantasy; the naff vacuity of the modern American and European musical, as witness a host of random tap- and rap- dance songs and some very funny banal lyrics, all choreographed with loving "amateur" cliché; Japanese anime and samurai live-action clichés; portentous Buddhist ritual; and the overweening sweetness of Viennese operetta. I've not laughed out loud so much at this type of film since Ken Russell's outrageous musical deconstruction in "The Boyfriend".
The grins come from the clever textual subversion of the Japanese legend, told in a traditional 5-act structure reminiscent of the plays of the 17th century master Chikamatsu. As in his work the narrative is advanced in a mixture of song, recitative, high-flown poetry and low comedy relief - here the pot-broiling of the incompetent ninja, Ostrich, by peasants under the illusion that he is a tanuki-raccoon in human guise. All of this somehow does hang together, and even more remarkably does manage to engage the watcher's emotions through the welter of cultural references.
In truth "Princess Raccoon" wears its pan-cultural garb with alluring lightness, and that's where the gasps of astonishment come in. Visually - again, as with Russell's masterpiece - the film is a treat, a riot of colour with its digitised backdrops of classical Japanese images from screens and prints, over-the-top costumes and stage sets, mixed with some breathtaking live action sequences in summer fields and seashores. You'll love it or loathe it, but there's no point castigating chalk for being cheese; and "Princess Raccoon" stands, first and foremost, as a wickedly funny as well as affectionate put-down of our contemporary cultural vacuity, in both East and West. Bravo!
OK so this is a totally confusing and at times bizarre experience. Of
course I didn't understand it and can also understand why lots of
people think the whole thing a disaster. Yet on several levels it has a
wicked fascination. Forget the story, it's so illogical that trying to
make sense of it is like trying to explain the fifth dimension. Viewed
as a series of extraordinary images you just keep watching, as one
tableau transforms into another. Viewed as a send up of Japanese opera
it has its moments, likewise as a take on western musicals it hits some
Frankly, it feels like something made by someone from another planet so why expect to understand it all? But you do, so just sit back and give in. If you like your films neat, packaged and with a clear story line, this is not it. On the other hand, I bet you'll talk about it quite a lot.
Partly inspired by the Tanukigoten musicals popular in Japan in the
1940's and 50's, maverick director Seijun Suzuki's as-yet final
feature, Princess Raccoon (2005), is a deliriously abstract and
stylised fantasy that mixes elements of philosophy and mysticism
alongside an approach to film production that is incredibly theatrical
in design. Beyond the look and feel of the film - which is really quite
extraordinary from beginning to end - and the wider disregard for genre
conventions and emphasis on visual storytelling, the narrative of
Princess Raccoon is disarmingly simple; essentially dealing with the
notions of betrayal and desire and the ultimate in forbidden love at
its most fable-like and unrequited; with all of these contrasting ideas
presented in an incredibly metaphorical sense, with the allusions to
traditional Japanese folklore and certain ideas that would also inspire
the underrated Isao Takahata film, Pom Poko (1994), produced by Studio
Although this combination of influences and ideas might suggest an impenetrable work that requires a great deal of thought and consideration, the film is never heavy-handed or dense; with the themes being continually disguised by a veneer of colourful farce and giddy fantasy sequences that occasionally recall the style of classic cult TV series Monkey (aka Monkey Magic, or Saiyūki, as it was originally known), with the over-the-top characters, moments of kaleidoscopic colour and strange scenes of imaginative theatrical performance all captured against an artificial backdrop of stage design and lighting effects. It is typical of the defiant approach to cinematic rule-breaking and disregard for conventional storytelling that has been a highlight of Suzuki's work for the past forty-five years, as we see a complete symbiosis between the separate elements of the subject matter, and the self-conscious stylisation of the performances. Here, Suzuki really does indulge himself completely, drawing on elements of Noh theatre, Kabuki performance, Chinese scroll paintings and contemporary music videos, as he plays with a variety of sounds, images and musical motifs to create a jarring melange of ideas that underpin the thoughts and feelings of the two central characters.
If you're unfamiliar with the director's work on iconic films like Gate of Flesh (1964), Tokyo Drifter (1966), Branded to Kill (1967) and the more recent Pistol Opera (2002), then you'll no doubt find much of the film a complete shock to the system; with the filmmaker's personal style, combined with the unapologetic reliance on Japanese cultural motifs that require a certain sense of familiarity with the subject, definitely causing a problem for many viewers unaccustomed to this particular stylistic approach. The style may also prove to be something of a barrier for anyone unable to look beyond the sense of camp and kitsch favoured by Suzuki in his vision of the film; with the opulent colour schemes, theatrical facade, blue screen projections, wire-work, musical numbers and action choreography becoming entirely self-indulgent, and yet, perfectly suited to the thematic concerns of the film. Again, such devises may seem jarring or needlessly ostentatious to audiences unfamiliar with the director's work, however, if you make the effort to meet the film halfway - disregarding the more obvious elements of purely nostalgic Japanese iconography and concentrating on the fun and frivolity of Suzuki's style and the deeper themes expressed through the characters - then the film pays off on a number of levels.
Admittedly, there are still a few flaws; with elements of the story often grating and occasionally becoming hard to follow. There is also a downside to the film's emphasis on look and style - which eventually overwhelms us and causes us to lose sight of the more human element of the story within the scenes of outlandish, fantastical abstraction. Nonetheless, perseverance and a keen attention span will allow us to keep up with the film's jaw-dropping spectacle, and again, if we disregard the more purely Japanese elements of the script and focus on the central moral dilemma, then the film does work on a more immediate level. Unfortunately, judging from many of the other user comments, it would appear that some elements of the film were lost in translation. A real shame! Once again with Suzuki, the film exists, first and foremost, as a work of joyous, escapist entertainment; something that Princess Raccoon delivers in spades.
I guess playing a Japanese character or acting in a Japanese movie
doesn't warrant as much an uproar as having to play a Japanese geisha.
And of course no prizes to be given out if you can guess why I would
want to watch Princess Raccoon in the first place - that Zhang Ziyi is
one of the leads in a Japanese movie, has piqued enough interest to pop
the DVD into the player.
The story is a simple one, which somewhat resembles that of Snow White. King Azuchi (Mikijiro Hira) is a terribly vain man, and like Snow White's evil stepmother, cannot stand for his offspring to be more beautiful (yes) than himself. So he hatches a plan to get rid of him, first by getting him murdered, failing which exile doesn't seem that bad of an alternative as well. So Prince Amechiyo (Jo Odagiri) accidentally journeys to the forbidden grounds at the foot of Mt Kairasu, where he meets with the Raccoon Princess Tanukihime (Zhang Ziyi), and thus it becomes a tale of forbidden love, as he's human, and she's obviously not, and goes through its Romeo and Juliet routines.
But as it is, the plot is somewhat meandering and plodding. While its central structure is clear, it tangents off with a number of subplots, and unless you're in a mood for fantastical elements with magic, deities and all in various surreal scenes, you'll find the story going terribly all over the place. There are too many characters here, and most of them the minor ones that just chalk up the number of casts without adding much to the story, and there perhaps to boast the beautiful costumes.
What takes the cake here is the gorgeous sets and special effects. For the most parts, watching the movie is like watching a stage play, in that the camera pretty much doesn't try anything fancy, nor break the invisible 180 degree rule. It's as if you're sitting in a theatre, and watching events unfold in pretty much the style of a stage musical built on intricately designed sets, with the multitude of songs and dances. What makes this movie unique is the visual presentation, fusing effortlessly the elements of computer generated graphics with live action (though some were deliberately cheesy), and that forms the primary appeal when watching the movie, which is part musical, part kabuki, part opera, nothing less than a visual spectacle.
Zhang Ziyi obviously had her handicap in the movie worked to her advantage. Being a magical raccoon, she speaks in an incomprehensible language (which is Mandarin) to the rest of the Japanese folks, while being able to rote learn and spew by heart her lines in songs, given that they're repetitive in nature. Her acting's her a little over the top and exaggerated, perhaps to complement the operatic elements in the movie.
Pick this up only if you are a completist in wanting to watch the movies in the filmography of Zhang Ziyi, or love graphics, sets and beautiful visuals. Otherwise the story is likely to bore you to death.
This movie starts off promisingly enough, but it gets a little to
convoluted and caught up in its stylistic charm. The set designs,
costumes, and music were wonderful- as close to perfect as one can get.
But the more I got into the movie, the more I felt like all this effort
was for the director's entertainment, not the audience. Although, I
loved looking at it, except for a few brief musical scenes, I can't say
I enjoyed it. The director shows enormous imagination, but if he had
fun with this film, he failed to share that with the audience, or at
least with me. I didn't get a sense of whimsy and I didn't get sucked
into this universe.
A big cause of this was (surprisingly) Zhang Ziyi. You can tell she's trying very hard, but she seems to have been so miscast that she comes off almost amateurish. She's a capable actress but she has her limitations. I've noticed in her acting, that she has yet to truly react to her fellow co-stars, a flaw that creates a void of chemistry. The language barrier in this film seems to have only exacerbate matters. She and Odagiri act as if they're on separate planets. She's also not a very good singer which made me cringe every time she sang, but thankfully there weren't too many scenes of that. Odagiri was OK but doesn't make much of an impression.
I didn't even care for the characters separately. There really is a sore lack of characterization. The only reason to care about them seems to be that they're good-looking royalty. Without the compelling love story at the center of the film though, it's hard to care what happens. The film also takes detours into minor scenes that added nothing to the story and was actually distracting. I had to rewind because after going into a subplot I couldn't remember what the heck they we're doing in the main storyline. There were also scenes where it was hard to tell what the action occurring was because it was so stylized.
Mostly I'm just disappointed because I really like the concept behind this and there are a lot of things I do like. The music and dance choreography are really great.The supporting performances are uniformly excellent, fantastic in both the acting aspect and the singing. It's just too bad the lead actors were so bland.
Maverick director Seijun Suzuki finally was able to film his dream
project, "Princess Raccoon" and in a way it's lucky he didn't try this
in the 1960's. Special effects and computer graphics certain made this
sort of production easier to achieve than the old film matte technology
Some familiarity with Japanese history and theatrical traditions will help with the enjoyment of this film. Much as familiarity with Shakespeare's "The Tempest" would help with Peter Greenaway's dense "Prospero's Books". These two films actually have a bit in common although, "Princess Raccoon" is much more colorful and easier to watch for someone without the background to fully appreciate it.
While the art design, acting and direction are fine for most of the film, it seems to this viewer that the energy runs out in the last third of the film. Most of the interesting sets have been already been introduced and the camera seems to step back for more of a filmed stage play experience.
This is certainly a unique film experience and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in alternate forms of film performance. It's not really meant for children although nothing happens that would upset them. If the last third was better I would have given it nine stars.
I think the problem with some reactions to this film is that they don't
focus on its problem with deciding who it's really for, and what it's
On the we-like-it side, there are those who are taken in because it's CUUUUUTE. Sure it has very nice visual design, pretty costumes, and a variety of elements. Some children's movie fans love the colour and animation, and all the un-scary 'magical' effects, shapeshifting animals, and so on. Some culture vultures like the complicated references, the layerings of different folklore elements, and the fact that they can watch Zhang Ziyi singing and quasi-miming, in two different languages, in what really was intended to be a children's comedy.
I hate to pop the balloon, but a hodgepodge of styles and references does not a movie make. (1) A children's movie should still have a point, (2) a blend of folktales is not the same as a coherent story, and (3) it's easier to believe in magic when enough thought and care has gone into the technical aspects to make it seem real.
In other words, the ideas could be lovely; but when you put them onstage they have to deliver. Here, they don't.
A good folktale - from any country - has a clear story, a point, and characters who interact strongly with each other. This picture lacks them all.
As a fantasy fan, I must say that I've sat through some turkeys and loved a few, but this one really tries to do too many things - cheaply. The main problem isn't that there's no plot; there's half a plot, which means that you keep getting pulled in, then dropped again as another none-too-sharply-executed dance number kicks off. Putting in Zhang Ziyi to try to add a little glitter smacks of exotic flower syndrome. A few over-sophisticated gestures towards OPERA, Western and Japanese, are no replacement for a solid theme.
The characters all seem to know that they're starring in a movie. Unless you really like watching other peoples' amateur video, this ain't good. I'd like to test this on real children; I think they'd drop it for Uproar in Heaven after about 20 minutes.
This film is completely and utterly surreal. The first point is that I don't speak Japanese, and so had the English subtitles on. The translation work is dodgy at best. There was more than one time I was on the floor laughing at some of the lines. Secondly, the actual story line is very difficult to follow- I suspect this wasn't helped by the bad translation, but it is just so totally and utterly random, that at times it almost seems like there isn't a storyline. Sometimes there will be a two second long shot of something, which is completely out of context, or an entire song that has no words and was totally out of the blue- there was absolutely no point in it. It is very hard to rate this film- I watched 5 minuted of it and decided I would turn it off, because it was so awful, but in the end watched the whole of it. It certainly keeps you entertained, maybe not intentionally, but it does.
Weird with unnecessary singing and backdrops. Randomly much of the
action will occur on stage giving the feeling of an opera performance.
None of that explains why this is such a bad film.
It's the impression that either not enough rehearsal took place or that no experienced choreographer was available. The acting is flat. Even the sparkling Ziyi Zhang looks like she's just waiting for her next movement or line. You may notice the trivia on this site stating that she spent half a month in Japan learning to sign and dance. Read that again as 2 weeks and things begin to make sense. Even worse are the little kids who seem to be looking at their parents at the back of the studio rather than at the camera.
The cheap and cheerful sfx are just cheap and cheap. The editing is staccato chops peppered with slices of just nothing that adds to anything except annoyance. Just imagine all the silly dance scenes from the recent Zatoichi - particularly the closing routine - performed by your local high school drama club with one famous actress who speaks in another language (but you get her in simply because she's so good normally despite being unsuitable), recorded on a cheap camera and then edited into three times its length in no artful order.
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