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Princess Raccoon

Geneon // Unrated // July 10, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 21, 2007 | E-mail the Author
When our storyteller starts off talking about the forbidden love between man and ... "raccoon", you know you're in for a bizarre ride. But that's exactly what director Seijin Suzuki has done for us with his colorful opera, Princess Raccoon. He's created a valiantly stunning oddity anxious to work out absorbent eyes, open ears, and willing gums ready for grinning. More importantly, he's given us a lush confection that can dumbfound with its dizzying extravagance.

The Film:

Princess Raccoon's plot opts for a straightforward and reflective nature to accommodate for these rich aesthetics. We're introduced to a tale of a love not meant to be. Much like the tales of Cinderella and Snow White, we're working with battles over class, beauty, and love. Azuchi Momoyama (Mikijiro Hira), king of a superior collection of beings, believes himself to be the "fairest of them all". Through a prophetic vision and irregular opinions within this little community, they believe his son, Prince Amechiyo (Jo Odarigi), to be his replacement. In an effort to retain his supremacy, Azuchi Momoyama elects to remove his son as a candidate for his title instead of pass along the torch.

Through a chance encounters within the woods, exiled Amechiyo runs into the disguised princess of the raccoons, Tanuki (Zhang Ziyi) - whom is also believed to be "fairest of them all" within her community. Vanity, especially other people's vanity, plays a big part in our erupting conflict. What isn't planned on, however, is the blossoming love between Prince Amechiyo and Princes Raccoon. It is believed that this forbidden love between the two young royals would bring a plague to the house of Raccoon. Our prince must sacrifice himself relentlessly, whether it's in confinement as a prisoner or in search of a golden frog of health, to keep their love alive. Will tragedy strike these doomed lovers, or will our prince find a way to make it all worthwhile?

Though glaring with influence from countless fairytale remnants, director Suzuki's psychedelically artistic opera remains fresh and compelling. Princess Raccoon doesn't dwell on the dramatic, though it slyly slips in speckles of class critique and afterlife reflection. Nor is it much of a comedy, though there's a bounty of fruitful humor. What lifts this particular film away from convention is the presence of a most unique aesthetic: a visible stage evident in most scenes. All the set pieces are rich with detail and warming to the eyes; however, this element throws our suspension of reality for a loop. Strangely enough, it changes Princess Raccoon's dynamic, shifting down its cinematic feel to almost nonexistent levels while boosting the theatrical points quite high.

Princess Raccoon, in turn, fleshes out into something similar to a well crafted performance film packed with enjoyably nonsensical zeal. Suzuki harnesses an operatic and lyrical feel, but in a wholly bizarre way. 50's style lounge music, orchestral productions, as well as some obscure hip-hop wiggles into the dynamic. Some of these zany choices are beautiful; though, some are exceedingly quirky to puzzling levels. However, instead of scratching my head and fussing about the crazed quirkiness, I couldn't shake this goofy grin off my face.

Artistic design, in itself a starring character along with the physical cast, makes itself known as the most intriguing element of this film very early on. Princess Raccoon is packed to the brim with lush pastels and bold blasts of color. This ends up being quite possibly the most important and engrossing element of this production, primarily because it fits so well with the film's airy demeanor. This artistic meeting of the minds, along with our stalwart director, knows how to manipulate both muted and loud splashes of color amidst a mesmerizing blend of computer generation and set design. There's sacrifice at play here, though - one where plot strength and development get pushed under the carpet for performance value.

Inconsistency and randomness with plot eccentricity is Princess Raccoon's only real weakness. Many points, no matter how much or little you invest your thoughts into, will cease to make a lick of sense. It's part of the piece's charm, though it is a bit frustrating to have to turn off that switch to our "cohesiveness" generator. We play a learning game as we adapt to this lack of adhesive narrative and enjoy the feathery story's visual majesty. Princess Raccoon is a unique experience, one that roused a grin here instead of disgust with its peculiarity.

This cast meshes gorgeously to their odd surroundings with Zhang Ziyi firmly as the cornerstone. She doesn't really stand out as much as she does with other productions. Instead, she merely seeps into the mix, swirling and bouncing about with the rest in grand fashion. This film illustrates more of a tribute and concentration on the ideal of a princess, not on the princess as an individual. Zhang Ziyi's character herself is a nearly separated entity altogether molded with the prince. Our prince and princess fit the bill well without holding enough gusto to distract our eyes from the overall picture. Instead, just like the rest of the cast, they thump, push, sway, swirl, and gleefully trot within Suzuki's hypnotizing aesthetics.

What does all this mean for Princess Raccoon as a movie? It's more of an experience than a seamless film. And I be a raccoon myself if it isn't spilling at the top with charm. There's a lot of fun to be had within this poetic, happy-go-lucky visual treat. Loose ends and hit-or-miss humor aside, Princess Raccoon delivers beautiful entertainment in some of the heartiest ways possible. It's rare when a musical makes me smile, but Seijin Suzuki wouldn't let me stop.

The DVD:

Geneon has put together Princess Raccoon in a clear standard keepcase DVD package with loud coverart reminiscent of the film it represents.

The Video:

Geneon's 1.85:1 presentation of Princess Raccoon will undoubtedly drop a jaw or two. Unfathomably lurid with color and detail, this standard DVD image is one of the best I've seen to date. Suzuki's wildly palatable opera has one of the widest arrays of strange visuals ever plastered across a cinema screen. Each of the intricate points practically jumps from the screen in nearly three-dimensional quality, no matter whether we're talking about the shafts atop an umbrella or the ripples in a swirling whirlpool. Soft flesh tones within Zhang Ziyi's cheeks echo well against the depths of forest greens and rich navy blues in subsequent scenes. There are some very, very miniscule hints of mosquito noise and mild edge enhancement scattered against the backdrops of a few scenes that keep this presentation merely steps away form perfection. Outside of those fussy little contrivances, Princess Raccoon looks ridiculously sharp.

The Audio:

Princess Raccoon also comes with two audio options, a Japanese / Chinese Dolby 5.1 track and a surprising DTS inclusion. After taking samples of each track, my conclusion is this: both options sound fantastic, but the dts adds a layer of depth and echoing resonance that drives it several levels above its alternate. In both tracks, there's a great level of surround activity. Gunshots, fireworks, singing, thumping, dancing, music ... everything jumps out through all channels. Our LFE level is very tight, throbbing, and lacking much rattling "rumble" that can plague weaker tracks. Though the dts track sweeps through the channels with added polish and clarity, both presentations sound quite pleasant to these ears. High quality optional English subtitles are available, though they are a bit high up on the print and a little to distracting with bold yellow font.

The Extras:

Additional materials, however, aren't large in numbers within this package. What is included carries a lot of strength, though:

- Behind The Scenes of Princess Raccoon -
This Making-Of Featurette is a 1.33:1, 45+ minute piece that remains candidly in-depth. This feature is nicely separated into chapters for us via a Chapter Selection screen. There's not a lot of that highly-polished and edited material that makes a similar feature seem like marketing fluff.

Instead, we get intimate shots from all crew members, such as a snippet of Zhang Ziyi hunting a crab during her ocean scene, Suzuki making a last minute script change with several performers fully adorned, and general difficulties from the entire cast in the dancing department. Though it's not terribly detailed, it covers an entertaining level of points across the film's assembly. Optional English subtitles are available, as pictured in the second shot above.

A DVD Credits option is also available for those interested.


Final Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed Princess Raccoon, and I can't fully work out why. Normally, a flick similar to this might come across as more off-putting than pleasant. With these visuals and this cast underneath its specific context, the film really works in my eyes. It sucked me in with alluring beauty, great performances, and this wonderful sense of humorous gravity. Geneon gives us a great aural and visual package with this DVD, as well as taking a pleasant stab at an extra feature. For such a striking aesthetic presentation of this exceptionally flamboyant flick, Princess Raccoon comes Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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