East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, May 01, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: Princess Raccoon [festival note]

Japan, 2005
Starring Zhang Ziyi, Joe Odagiri
Written by Urasawa Yoshio*
Directed by Suzuki Seijun
*IMDb lists writer as Suzuki

You only need to know two things about this movie:

1. Zhang Ziyi plays a raccoon!

2. It's directed by Suzuki Seijun!

What more can I say? Well, it might be worth mentioning that

3. Zhang Ziyi plays a Chinese-speaking raccoon!

4. What I haven't seen anyone say is that the plot is really, really easy to follow, in part because you know how it must go, prince meets princess etc etc. You'll experience mental pain if you try to follow the action moment-to-moment because it's full of impossible transitions and non-sequiturs. The formally interesting part of this is how Suzuki collapses the difference between interiors and exteriors, but to sort out exactly how he does this requires thinking in five dimensions and that makes my mind hurt, so let's leave it for someone's thesis, OK?

5. The musical numbers -- yes, every great Asian director is now doing musical numbers -- are surprisingly well-performed; in particular the movie features the best Old Person Rapping since Lyrics Born. The choreography, by Takizawa Mitsuko, is even better, especially for a generically Caribbean number in which the princess's palace is portrayed as paradise. It's vast, with close to a hundred performers moving complementarily. And Suzuki has the decency to actually let us see everything.

6. In fact the acting might as well be dancing, it's that stylised. It's a perfect fit for Zhang. Freed from the straitjacket of realism, she can focus on what makes her special, her grace in movement. (Are you listening WKW?) In the couple of instances where she's asked to actually act she's decent enough.

7. With all the arts coming together, Suzuki can't leave out painting. On one hand, two giant-sized Renaissance-looking paintings are used as props by the baddies; on the other, Zhang first emerges from a waterfall that gushes out of what looks like (to my non-art historian eyes) a Sung landscape, once again collapsing the difference between interiors and arrgh headache headache.

8. If only Suzuki had found a way to build the emotional resonances into something -- as it stands, the happy tragic ending is lukewarm (c.f. Peter Jackson, who in recent years has been uniformly Dead Serious even when he's joking, for better and worse but mostly for better). The best part of the movie is in the middle, when Suzuki steps back and lets beauty do its job: Zhang's and Odagiri's exhalations keep a morning glory afloat in the air; soon after, the evil Old Maid Virgen (sic) ascends to Catholic heaven while bastardising "My Way" -- one last fuck you to the good guys.

9. This is the best SFIFF ever (out of the three I've attended anyway). Mostly because the works I expected to be top notch (Three Times, The Wayward Cloud, this) exceeded expectations. Which puts a lot of pressure on Iraq in Fragments.

Hopefully next for Zhang Ziyi: Secret Squirrel: The Musical!, directed by Park Chan-Wook -- Secret Squirrel awakens in the body of a young Chinese woman to discover she has no memory of the preceding five years. She kills a ton of people with a rolling pin while singing Monkees songs and ends up marrying your auntie Grizelda.


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