Princess Raccoon nee Tanuki posterWhen it is a Tanuki. Clearly the distributors of Princess Raccoon, a glorious whacked out Japanese fairy-tale cum musical had a problem. A Tanuki is a Japanese animal, which does not really have a Western analog. Calling the film Princess Tanuki might have been more accurate, but missed out the fact that the film is a whimsical folkloric type tale – something that both haterz and lovers of such whimsy might need to know before stumping up their dollar. A raccoon is a bit like a tanuki, but even with the translation, an awful lot of information is missed. In particular the role of the tanuki in Japanese folklore as a shapechanging, trickster type animal with excessively large testicles.

Before we went in at the ICA I mentioned to my companions that I had read that an awful lot of the jokes might go over our head due to translation issues. In reality many went under out heads and were aimed squarely at our groin. Not i don’t know if Tanuki Broth is another name for semen, but it certainly seemed to be set up that way in the film. I equally was unaware that the pom-po-po sound used in the film to intimate the coming of a tanuki was actually a drumbeat played on their bollocks. The tanuki site linked to above is a fascinating look at another cultures folklore. However one thing it does not explain is why Zhang Ziyi, a Chinese actress who nary speaks a word of Japanese plays the Tanuki princess (and indeed the suggestion that she is a Chinese tanuki is all the Japanese audience gets). This means we get the lovely sensation of double decker subtitles!

It is a strangely enjoyable film, best when it burst into song and plays with a storytelling styles and conventions alien to the audience. It gets a sappy near the end, and the Frog of Paradise – whilst BEST FROG EVER – is no real excuse for a nicely wrapped up plot. But as a musical, its one of the best I’ve seen in a while. And as an introduction to big bollocked trickster animals of japan, it can’t be beaten.