- Princess Raccoon (2005) movie review: 82-year-old filmmaker Seijun Suzuki and (mostly anime) screenwriter Yoshio Urasawa’s audacious fairy-tale musical is both a cinematic challenge and a cinematic achievement. Zhang Ziyi and Joe Odagiri star.
Princess Raccoon movie review: Veteran Seijun Suzuki directs challenging but remarkable Japanese musical fairy tale
One of the most challenging – and most rewarding – presentations at this year’s AFI FEST was the Japanese musical fairy tale Princess Raccoon / Operetta tanuki goten, directed by 82-year-old veteran Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Zigeunerweisen), whose film career dates back to the mid-1950s, and written by Yoshio Urasawa, a name associated with television anime fare like Anmitsu-hime and Digimon: Digital Monsters.
An eclectic mix of naturalistic and boldly stylized sets, catchy tunes ranging from mild rap to hot salsa, countless plot twists and turns inspired by medieval European fairy tales and Japanese legends, dialogue in languages ranging from Japanese to Portuguese, and special effects that are purposefully – and beautifully – simple (one such brings back to life actress Hibari Misora [1937–1989]), Princess Raccoon is both way overlong at 111 minutes and memorable, magical entertainment.
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon actress Zhang Ziyi stars as Tanukihime, the princess of the (English-language) title and a “demon” – or rather, spirit – who falls in love with a handsome mortal, Prince Amechiyo, played by Japanese actor-musician Joe Odagiri (Platonic Sex, Blood and Bones).
As befits every fairy tale worth its happily ever after finale, in order to remain together the two youthful lovers must overcome numerous obstacles.
For starters, the prince happens to be the object of deadly envy of his royal father (veteran Mikijirô Hira), who, in Evil Queen fashion, wants to be the fairest in his kingdom. In addition, prince and princess face prejudice on the part of the raccoons (who, wisely, disdain humans) and must cope with some pesky language (Mandarin/Japanese) barriers.
But really, when have prospective lovers, no matter the species, ever cared about such minor impediments?
Besides, there’s a golden frog that needs to be found. And fast.
Hip-hopping prophetess steals show
Zhang Ziyi is an alluring Princess Raccoon while Joe Odagiri personifies princely charm, but it’s hit pop singer and Best Supporting Actress Japanese Academy Award nominee Saori Yuki (The Family Game, 1983) – as the cunning, hip-hopping (Christian) prophetess Virgen Hag – who runs away with the film.
Whenever Yuki is seen/heard rapping on screen, Princess Raccoon gets a robust shot of subversive thespian adrenalin.
Dauntless cultural + cinematic mélange
With its lighthearted yet daring mix of various cultural and narrative schools, Princess Raccoon feels like a musical follow-up to Seijun Suzuki’s 2001 crime actioner Pistol Opera, which has been described as a “highly personal blend of traditional and experimental cinema.”
This sort of cultural and storytelling mélange will likely put off a significant chunk of “mainstream” audiences, but those willing to sit through this dauntless sensory feast should, like Princess Raccoon’s lovers, be rewarded at the end.
Princess Raccoon / Operetta tanuki goten (2005)
Director: Seijun Suzuki.
Screenplay: Yoshio Urasawa.
Cast: Zhang Ziyi. Joe Odagiri. Hiroko Yakushimaru. Saori Yuki. Mikijirô Hira. Tarô Yamamoto. Gentaro Takahashi. Miwako Ichikawa.
Special Appearance (via visual effects): Hibari Misora.
“Princess Raccoon (2005)” endnotes
Princess Raccoon turned out to be Seijun Suzuki’s final film. He died at age 93 in February 2017.
Joe Odagiri and Zhang Ziyi Princess Raccoon movie image: Ogura Jimusyo | Dentsu | Nippon Herald Films.
“Princess Raccoon (2005): Japanese Musical Is Challenging But Memorable Cinema” last updated in September 2021.