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An Ecstatic Review Of PRINCESS RACCOON From The New York Asian Film Festival!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

This is the sort of review I love printing the most. Someone sees something that’s just not on the hype radar and falls in love and has to shout it to the world. What could be more pure than that?

Dear Mr. McWeeny,

I am a longtime admirer of the site you and Knowles have built, and read with keen interest your reviews and reports. Bear with me on this. While I am assuredly a geek, prone to fits of cool-giggles and antic raving, I like to think that most of the time, I can keep my head on straight. If a film wows me, I tend to consider it before praising it to the heavens. All of this is by way of preface to what I am about to say now:

Veteran director Seijun Suzuki's new film Princess Raccoon, making its North American debut about four hours ago at the New York Asian Film Festival, is the most jaw-droppingly insane, hilarious, sweet, beautiful and tuneful film I've seen in many moons. It is a crowning work for the aging, ailing auteur, a valedictory, joyous lap around a century of Japanese cinema and Eastern and Western music. This is no old man's movie. This is the work of a man dementedly drunk on the beauty of movies and myth. I. Fucking. Loved. This. Movie. And if you have a heart in your chest and an inner child that hasn't been suffocated by decades of cynicism, you will love it too.

All right. Hang on, let me try to get my fingers around what I just saw tonight. Princess Raccoon (or, to its native audiences, Operetta Tanuki Goten , which translates as "Operetta Raccoon Palace") is the story of the overly handsome Prince Amechiyo (Jo Odagiri), banished by his wicked father for being handsomer than he (the King learns this from an oracle that seems to be a bowl of soup), thereafter falling in love with the luscious Princess Tanuki (Ziyi Zhang), leader of a community of woodland sprites. The Princess, for reasons best known to Suzuki, speaks Mandarin Chinese, while everyone else speaks Japanese. No matter, Amechiyo understands her, and love blooms instantly. Through convolutions familiar to any reader of myth, the essentially Bhuddist Tanuki Palace comes under threat by the King and his hardline Catholic beliefs. How it all falls from there is even more gonzo.

The film informs us, from the outset, that this is not going to be a conventional ride. A twinkle-eyed farmer speaks directly to us as he sets two traps; never, he says, should a Tanuki fall in love with a man, nor vice versa. Perhaps cruelly, he sets two traps to ensnare one of each and thus begin the game. Far from being a distancing gesture, this delighted the crowd. Abandon all snarkiness, ye who enter here, Suzuki seems to be saying. And if you're going to follow a film that deploys every fakey theatrical trick in the book (painted backdrops, kabuki-esque posing, copious musical numbers), you'd best not be snarky. Wait, did I say musical numbers? No shit, Jack, this picture has opera, pop, glam rock and hip-hop numbers in it, all choreographed to the silly hilt. If you're not enchanted by Ziyi's beautifully sung ode to the handsome prince, delivered as she emerges from a waterfall, you'll surely be giggling with delight at the doped up, ska-ish theme of the Tanuki Palace, accompanied by hundreds of raccoon people at delerious play. A band of red-haired, whiskered musicians play wooden instruments and prance through the scene, and three adorable little raccoon girls provide extra vocal snazz. If this all sounds cutesy, then, well, it probably is. But it's delivered with such mind-blowing brio that you'll be too stoned to care. And you'll want the soundtrack instantly. The performers, in any case, are uniformly excellent, with Ziyi in particular a total vision, breathtaking to look at and listen to. They've all done their homework, and they're all acting in the house style: over-the-top but perfectly composed, like a pop art oil painting.

Favorite moments? Too many to count, really, but here are a couple:

The introduction of the film's deus ex machina, an all-healing amphibian called the Frog of Paradise.

A vengeful Ziyi flying on a cloud, crying "Thus loves a demon!" (Actually one of the most stirring things I've ever seen on screen)

The fickle weather on a mountaintop that forces the Prince to undress and dress repeatedly.

The giggling Prince of the Tanukis dancing about Amechiyo's bamboo cell.

The wonderful way in which Suzuki subverts tragedy at the film's end to produce unrivalled uplift.

Oh, hell, it's exhausting. But in a lovely way. I felt absolutely wasted by the end of the film, too, too bedazzled to think straight. There was a gentleman sitting next to me at the theatre, clearly annoyed at the gurgling child that I became within moments of the film starting. Every time I giggled in delight at the film's newest felicity, he glared at me. I think I speak for myself and the great Suzuki-san when I say, Lighten the fuck up or get the fuck out. If you're too poisoned to enjoy this, then you can fuck right off, chap. Top to tail, from lush design to clockwork animation, from glam-rock frog chant to psycho-wacked beachside sword fight, this is a stone-cold classic. It will enjoy a pride of place, once released on disc, on my shelf forever. And if I ever want to show my beautiful niece the magic of cinema, this is what I'm going to whip out.

Thanks, Seijun. At least one world just got rocked tonight, you cool, cool motherfucker. Long may you reign.

Call me Mr. Flibble.

Thanks, man. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see this one, too, and on the bigscreen where it belongs. Great review, and let us know if you see anything else at the fest that you love.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 20, 2005, 3:54 a.m. CST

    Wow nice

    by tristec


  • June 20, 2005, 3:56 a.m. CST

    dementedly drunk on the beauty of movies and myth

    by popbot

    I wouldve loved to have gone to this movie festival. All of those reviewed look so GOOD! Me lovee long time! Suzuki, Tsukamoto, Miike! and then directors i dont know shit about. A hypnotic celluloid underworld. Japan! You So Crazy!

  • June 20, 2005, 3:59 a.m. CST

    First time in the talkback

    by tristec

    i didn't know there is such a huge demand for being first in a talkback forum. This could be habit forming.

  • June 20, 2005, 6:10 a.m. CST

    I caught my inner child stealing money out of my wallet

    by Drunken Rage

    I'd like to see this movie but my inner child is in time-out.

  • June 20, 2005, 8:53 a.m. CST

    Sounds amazing

    by Ironthorman

    I am figuring this is something that won't come out for general audiences, But I want a copy based soley on Mr. Flibble's review. When and where will this be available!

  • June 20, 2005, 12:05 p.m. CST

    BEST THING AT CANNES2005!!!!!!

    by no-no

    Hilarious, puzzling, beautiful, stupid, fabulous.

  • June 20, 2005, 2:36 p.m. CST

    Cool, but one big question remains

    by gigaloff

    Do the tanuki have giant testicles in this one as well (like in Pom Poco) Anyway, this sounds good. I love Tokyo Drifter, but I haven't even gotten around to see Pistol Opera yet. And another unhyped, v.good movie is the danish marionette fantasy film STRINGS. Check it out.

  • June 20, 2005, 3:05 p.m. CST

    yep, gigaloff's right...

    by tucson

    They're only real tenuki if their balls are so big they can sit on them like cushions. And they're bellies have to be big enough for them to play on them like drums (pom...pom...pom...). My God, it sounds like the Harry Knowles Story! :D

  • June 20, 2005, 3:58 p.m. CST

    Great, more jobs outsourced.

    by DAS JANKE

    The last good thing to come out of japan was my car.

  • June 20, 2005, 4:03 p.m. CST

    You mean... Worst thing at Cannes 2005

    by GrenadierNo9

    Okay not "worst," but pretty damned awful. I had been waiting the entire festival and beyond for this movie, I also think Suzuki is quite an excellent director. However.... this movie was a train wreck. It was sloppy at best, with awful musical numbers. The movie jumped from one lazy scene too another. I'm a fan of Children's movies, and musicals, as well as the theatre... but this movie was attrocious. The movie reminded me of an unintentional Noises Off. It tried far too hard, and failed at the majority of the jokes, with some exceptions (amongst the failed jokes is "the hunter" getting mistaken for a raccoon/toilet and... urinated on by a little boy.... yeah, you heard me). I didn't mind the painted backdrop, kabuki-esque poses or even musical numbers per say. However I did mind that the musical numbers were poorly executed... and even more so I minded the really bad animation throughout the film.... REALLY Bad. I know it was geared to be lighthearted... but it just tried way to hard. Most people will find this movie similar to the person attending the film beside Mr. Flibble. Throughout the entire film people were getting up and leaving while SLAMMING their seats too show their frustration. I'm sorry that I didn't like the film, I appreciate Suzuki and his accomplishments but this review was just TOOOOOO much. Go stoned if you go at all.

  • June 20, 2005, 5:55 p.m. CST

    you're right GrenadierNo9...

    by no-no

    I was only being playful, it was truly atrocious. I thought by being supportive, I could maybe reinforce the will from someone to see it or buy the dvd and that would be a good joke on them if maybe a bit cruel.

  • June 20, 2005, 7:20 p.m. CST


    by johnnysunshine

    Sounds interesting. Wasn't the tanuki one of the costumes Mario put on in Mario Bros. 3?

  • June 21, 2005, 12:56 p.m. CST

    Actually, the big question is...

    by gamerawangi

    if you see this movie at the theater, and order popcorn, do they take it down to the river and wash it off first?