English Title: Princess Raccoon
Original Title: Operetta tanuki goten
Country of Origin: Japan
Studio: Ogura Jimusyo Co.
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Producer(s): Satoru Ogura
Screenplay: Yoshio Urasawa
Runtime: 111 minutes minutes
Working with several different Japanese folklore tales, Princess Raccoon presents the story of young Prince Amechiyo who encounters and falls in love with the lovely raccoon spirit of the film's title. We've been forewarned that any love between a human and raccoon should be doomed, but apparently during the thirteenth moon there may be a chance for these lovers. It all begins poorly for young Prince Amechiyo though, as he has been banished to Mt. Kairasu by his father the Lord of Garasa Castle, just as his mother was many years before for disobeying her husband. His crime is that he has simply reached the stage where he may outshine the Lord as the fairest of them all. After being put to sleep, Amechiyo is carried to the base of the mountain but ends up being dropped in Raccoon Forest. The raccoons who find him are very mistrusting of humans and believe them to be the bearers of disease that will eventually destroy their forest. As the prince and the princess begin to fall in love, the raccoons may prove to be right as the Lord decides that he will wipe out Raccoon Forest.
"No man should love a raccoon". Perhaps this opening line may sound like obvious advice, or perhaps something that really should go without saying, but since this is a Seijun Suzuki movie, you can't just go around assuming things. More important than the plot is how Suzuki stages its story. As its Japanese title indicates, it is indeed an operetta and the story unfolds through numerous songs (in many different styles) with broad acting, broader gestures and brash sound effects, along with the occasional comic relief character. To further emphasize, it is actually staged as a play would be with typical sets and props. However, Suzuki uses the fact that he is filming these staged events in order to superimpose backgrounds, move figures around, and do many other little tricks that obviously could not easily be done during a play. He still keeps it very simple, though, and the effects are distinctly on the cheap side and add an air of fun to the proceedings.
The numerous song styles are a clear indicator of the lack of seriousness. When the short rap number begins with the two old characters, you may find yourself in a state of horrified fascination, but if you put it in context with the short tap dance routine, it actually makes more sense as Suzuki takes the standard stage/musical cliches from both American and Japanese theatre, and reworking them all into a fantastical tale with strange characters and a variety of surprises. At the very least, Princess Racoon is a gorgeous film to look at. The beautifully coloured sets, wonderful background visuals and inventive lighting should themselves be enough to keep the viewer's attention. Fortunately, it is also something more than that. If you approach Princess Raccoon as straight fable, you should find that it is an entertaining and beautiful one to watch. Just don't try to guess what you might see next.
Author of this review: Bob Turnbull