Japanese Film Festival Day Three: Kamikaze Girls & Raccoon Princess

Tonight Japan offered a pleasant enough film that pretended to be alternative but is actually pretty common in this day and age, and paired it up with something that you barely ever see and for good reason.

I’m no longer certain I understand this program, and it’s only three days in.

Kamikaze Girls

When I was darkness at that time

It’s the old Japanese failsafe: placing two alternative girls who have nothing in common together and forging between them an unlikely friendship. To let the audience know that this is the case, one of the girls – the tough yankee sukeban – is played by Anna Tsuchiya. Anna Tsuchiya’s name translates roughly into English as “reliable tough girl”.

Kamikaze Girls is strange in that for its first half hour or so it’s terribly meta. I suppose that this is rather similar to Thank You For Smoking, which relied incredibly heavily on meta for its own intro.
It’s the sort of movie, though, that starts with the apparent death of its protagonist, who has to go back and say “let’s start a little earlier”. Movies that start during climactic scenes – for instance the endgame execrable Mission: Impossible III – generally attach a meaning to these climactic scenes. The moment that Kamikaze Girls begins is a watershed moment, but it’s strange for the purposes of beginning a narrative. It’s not the sort of movie that needs one of those “wow super drama!” openings but it possesses one anyway.

The Japanese Film Festival certainly isn’t offering surprising films, but rather representative films. This isn’t a bad thing, but Kamikaze Girls is the same as many other oddball frenetic films for the teenaged that Japan likes to throw at its audiences – of course, right down to Anna Tsuchiya.

Sukeban biker + narcissistic gothic Lolita = Kamikaze Girls. There’s fun to be had, but it’s the sort of movie that is very easy to tire of, and quickly. I liked the character metamorphosis for the final showdown, but who doesn’t like cute spacey girls turning rude and violent?

I didn’t give the story in this write up, but honestly, with the template that it takes, I really didn’t need to. Blood stained lace is not inspiring, but it’s good to watch … once a year.

Princess Raccoon

Setting Japanese film production values back so far that Japanese film production values can’t ever have been this shoddy

Arranging my thoughts on this film is going to be difficult. It was always going to be so, even if I wasn’t in my current illiterate state, because Princess Raccoon is an incoherent mess, incredibly poorly edited and boasting a story that is remarkably difficult to follow given its simplicity.

”But Alex,” you say, ignoring the fact that this was the only movie of the entire festival that I couldn’t secure a watching partner, “Princess Raccoon featured your beloved Zhang Ziyi! All that she touches turns to gold!”
Yet the old adage goes “you can’t polish a lousy tanuki movie.” (this remarkably specific adage appears to have been created in response to Pom Poko; its creators are probably as surprised as I am that someone would get a chance to use it again).

Let’s get the story straight: Lord Momoyama is told by his chief witch/soothsayer/old maid, Virgen, that his son, Prince Amechiyo, is poised to claim the title of “fairest in the land”. Momoyama, despite the fact that he is actually quite ugly, decides to kill his son in order to maintain the title. Snow far, Snow White.
Amechiyo, out in the wilds for some reason, happens upon the Tanuki Palace. There he is either imprisoned or falls in love with Tanuki Hime (Zhang Ziyi, speaking Mandarin – conveniently disguised by the fact that tanuki understand all languages and, get this, that hearts transcend the barriers of uncommon tongues – she’s a princess on loan from Cathay, you see).
By falling in love with Amechiyo, Tanuki Hime is herself qualified in the Byzantine rulebook of the Momoyama Dynasty as “equal fairest in the land”. Lord Momoyama sends Virgen out to do away with them all, but traditional combat proves a stalemate for both sides. Virgen loses by a deciding scissors paper rock match (!), and so Lord Momoyama has to do his own dirty work.

Oh, and it’s a musical!

Princess Raccoon is remarkably confusing and confused. It seems to have no idea what it wants to be, presenting no clear aesthetic or musical consistency. One moment the characters will be performing against a painted backdrop stuck onto the blue screen at headache inducing angles, the next they will be in a snow laden forest, and the next still they’ll be on one of the sets that was clearly designed for stage.
The music is a strange hodgepodge that varies from the vaguely traditional operatic form to jazzy numbers to a rap spoken partly in English. The film is so confused that during the concluding dance one of the tanuki does the robot.

Let’s not even go as far as to mention that the villains of the piece are Catholic. I am fairly but not entirely certain that no branch of Catholicism has employed soothsaying and sorcery. Furthermore, the Virgin Mary most likely cannot be invoked to smite your foes, tanuki or no.
What you can do is recall the film The Andalusian Dog. Buñuel and Dali, in making that film, set out to make something that made no sense, and that people would have to engage with by fighting the human instinct to create a story from what they’re seeing. Somehow, Princess Raccoon makes less sense than a melted clock, or anything that Dali ever placed in front of an unsuspecting audience. It’s admirable because, unlike Dali, the staff behind Princess Raccoon weren’t even trying to achieve what they did.

Adding to its considerable list of sins, Princess Raccoon never ends. What could have served as an adequate ending to a less-than-adequate film dragged on into something that can be described only as the work of the devil. Princess Raccoon is a black hole from which no joy can escape: only that of the unintentional humour contained in depressingly copious amounts.

That said, the songs were good even if they were nonsensical, and the dance performed by the three children tanuki was cute. Three cute girls and listenable songs do not a good movie make, and I could not give Princess Raccoon even a passing mark. The imperfect but enjoyable Hong Kong musical Perhaps Love would more than tide you over. Consider that before you set your hands upon this interminable mess.

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