There’s been bugger all to watch on TV so far this holiday, so I’ve been bashing through DVDs at an alarming rate. Last night I exposed my fuzzy brain to Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon (2005), a colourful, cartoonish, bat-crap-crazy musical fairy tale, that’s best described as a cross between Snow White, Romeo & Juliet and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, concocted during a particularly vivid cheese dream. Jinkies!
Joe Odagiri stars as ‘Amechiyo’, the handsome young prince of Grace Castle, marked for death by his own father, who vainly fears that his son will soon eclipse him as “the fairest in the land”. The king’s assassin (a ninja named “Ostrich”) knocks Amechiyo out with a sleeping potion, and drags him through Raccoon Forest, en route to the monarch’s favoured dumping ground, Kairasu Mountain (where the prince’s uppity mother was also buried). Fortunately for our hero, the forest is populated by magickal shape-shifting spirits known as Raccoons, and their beloved princess (played by Zhang Ziyi) “rescues” him from certain death… then takes him back to her palace and places him in a cage. During their brief time together, the two had begun to fall in love, but the princess’s closest gal-pal is dead-set against such inter-species dalliances, and the prince’s father is still out for blood, so there are plenty of stumbling blocks for our lovers to overcome (up to and including separate deaths) before they finally earn their happy ending…
Personally, I didn’t find the story very involving on an emotional level, because everything was so stylised and stagey… it’s also a little overlong, with too many “encore” endings… but it’s a real blast as a sensory experience, and a true feast for the eyes. This is a film that gleefully tosses convention out the window, and then performs a celebratory dance with its bushy tail swinging.
Fun fact: Ziyi is a Chinese actress and didn’t speak any Japanese at the time, so she had to have an interpreter with her for the entire production, and learned to speak most of her dialogue phonetically (her character is identified as a foreigner, and often speaks in Mandarin, so it wasn’t a total uphill struggle for her).
Note: This was actually a very un-seasonal choice of viewing, since the murderous villains purport to be Christians (wearing big shiny crosses around their necks), while the heroes are Buddhist, and frequently use pagan magick to save the day! Oops!