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Princess Raccoon, April 30

49th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Sunday, April 30, 2006
8:00 p.m. Princess Raccoon
Seijun Suzuki (Japan, 2005)

(Operetta tanuki goten). It's hard to believe we've had the pleasure of watching Seijun Suzuki movies for almost fifty years. What's even more remarkable is that his films have remained as youthfully nutty as they were in the sixties. His new musical Princess Raccoon is a love story of sorts, between a man and an animal. But there's no bestiality here—this animal is played by the stunning Zhang Ziyi, who is a tanuki, a raccoon-like creature that can change shape and impersonate just about anything, including a human (if you saw Isao Takahata's Pom Poko at PFA last summer, you'll know all about tanukis). The object of her affection is Prince Amechiyo (Joe Odagiri, also starring in The House of Himiko, SFIFF 2006). It seems that Amechiyo's father, Lord of Castle Grace, is more than a little taken with his own handsomeness and banishes Amechiyo to the wilderness when his in-house witch informs him that Amechiyo is soon to be even better looking than his father. But banishment could be worse, since the comely Princess Raccoon discovers him and whisks him back to her castle. This being a Suzuki movie, don't go looking for much more plot—Japan's premier trickster would rather rescue us from such mundanities. Instead, glory in the spectacular production design and cheerful wackiness of this anything-goes pop opera, replete with singing frogs, a dancing ska band (skabuki?), a plethora of multi-mythical characters, and images ranging from the whimsical to the profound. It's all terrific fun, especially if you just pretend those subtitles are bouncing-ball sing-along lyrics and join in.

—Tod Booth

• Written by Yoshio Urasawa. Photographed by Yonezo Maeda. With Zhang Ziyi, Joe Odagiri, Hiroko Yakushimaru, Yuki Saori. (111 mins)