September 08, 2006
Operetta Tanuki Goten
Suzuki Seijun - 2005
Mei Ah Entertainment Region 0 DVD
"Seijun Suzuki is a director who seems to have known the future before it happened. Certainly in terms of his ability to draw from a palette of popular and classic culture and engage those colours in an inventive use of the medium. In doing this he creates works that are not observational in terms of truth but that are committed to the pursuit of a singular and larger truth. His latest film 'Princess Raccoon' to the non-Japanese viewer such as myself, who undoubtedly will miss some of the more direct cultural references, is nonetheless relentlessly compelling in it's surprise invention and theatricality. The generation of filmmakers to whom I belong owe much to the fearless work of Seijun Suzuki." - Baz Luhrmann
In what he says is his final film, Suzuki Seijun, once again manages to defy expectations. After establishing his reputation primarily with gangster films that undermined the genre, followed by the deliberately paced "Taisho Trilogy", Suzuki surprises us one last time with a fairy tale fantasy. As if to also say that you can teach an old dog new tricks, the film makes extensive use of digital technology, almost the Japanese answer to octogenarian Eric Rohmer's Lady and the Duke which also had a veteran director embracing new filmmaking tools. One odd bit that ties to past films - Suzuki worked several times with actor Jo Shishido and this last film stars Jo Odagiri (happiness is a guy named Jo(e)?).
The story, about an exiled prince in love with a racoon disguised as a human, as some similarities to Midsummer Night's Dream. Beginning with a an actor introducing the story like as if on a stage, remarking that it is the "13th night", Suzuki bounces around various settings that are linked by their arificiality. Suzuki has taken some of his ideas from Shinoda's Double Suicide and amplified them with a riot of anime colors. The effect is almost of a live action cartoon governed by its own laws of time and space.
In addition to also starring Zhang Ziyi, Princess Racoon, like Wong Kar-Wai's 2046 is a dream of Asia without language barriers. Chinese and Japanese speak to each other in their respective languages. At a time when Japan and China still have some serious unresolved issues, it is as if the artists are looking towards overcoming cultural differences.
I feel like I can only discuss Princess Racoon at this time with some relatively random thoughts that occurred while watching this film. Like Luhrmann, I feel like I missed a lot due to my own limited knowledge of Japanese culture. Nonetheless, it is a fun film to watch, unlike virtually anything else on any screen. At the very least, there is satisfaction in seeing Suzuki Seijun, a filmmaker who was considered washed up thirty years ago, ending his career on his own idiosyncratic terms.
Posted by peter at September 8, 2006 04:49 PM
Why oh why isn't Princess Raccoon released on a big fat screen ? It's lush and puzzling, while much simpler than Yumeji or Zigeunerweisen ; the actors, singers and dancers are smart and good-looking, the songs are catchy and... Oh, well. God bless the DVD.
Posted by: Owen Cox at September 15, 2006 04:10 PM