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.