(23/04/08)

– Hot or Not? "Trust – NOT! It’s overrated and not really useful. What’s life without the drama caused by conceit, lying and disloyalty?"

"You preached the fucking ten commandments while your sister was dying"

Anime is a strange term, one that means different things to different people and a term that has mutated over the years. Strictly, it simply means animation that has been created in Japan but this has been muddied by the proliferation of outsourcing (much anime is tweened in Korea) and pillorying by tabloid newspapers that equates the term with violent pornography (from a group of films that may well include Urotsukidoji but also Hello Kitty). By now the term basically means either that the animation comes from Japan or it possesses qualities that clearly mark it as separate from mainstream Hollywood, i.e. Disney style, animations. Princess falls into the anime style category, a bewildering mix of cell animation, CGI and live action. As its 18 rating suggests this is absolutely not The Little Mermaid.

Mixing the words "Danish", "controversial", "cartoon" and "religion" together has become something of an international pastime in the last few years. Princess adds a few extra terms to this heady mix; namely "sex", "violence" and "paedophilia" in Danish cartoonist Anders Morgenthaler’s bold film. August, a missionary, returns to Denmark upon hearing of the death of his sister Christina. He finds a different calling back home in the form of Mia, his sister’s delightful but disturbed daughter. Mia’s life has been scarred by her mother’s work. Christina had been a famous star of the adult entertainment industry under the moniker Princess, her mockingly tasteless grave adorned with penis statues and bearing the epitaph "I hope you spread your legs for the angels the way you did for us". Incensed, August seeks to find out the truth behind his sister’s descent into drug addiction and eventual death, further buoyed by the realisation that toddler Mia has been implicated in the sordid saga, bruised and abused by an industry that excels in subjugation and humiliation. August seeks vengeance and Mia, with her toy rabbit Multe, will accompany him in his quest to avenge his sullied sister.

Princess is an occasionally bizarre twist on the kind of vigilante movies that were the mainstay of late 1970s film-making, uncomfortable in the morality department – while you certainly want justice to the evil doers is having a one man judge, jury and executioner really the right way to go about things? Like the Death Wish series, Princess goes to considerable lengths to convince you that its central "hero’s" extreme actions are justified. In this case it comes from two sources, a need to avenge his family and clean up the name of his sister. This is neatly summed up in a scene where Mia is delighted at coming across the photograph of her mother in a newsagents, on the cover of a pornographic magazine. August’s shock at this and his demands that the seller removes all material featuring his sister sets him on a path of bloody retribution.

What is distinctly odd is the way that director Morgenthaler moves the film from traditional cell animation to obviously CGI and frequently live action film and video. The deceased Christina features in the film normally in live action video diaries that mark her descent into Hell with her violent boyfriend Charlie. Charlie, we discover, has also been abusing Mia, the bruises still showing on her young body some time after she had left the squalid apartment. These insinuations of child abuse, of Mia’s tacit acceptance of a world of sex, make much of the film uncomfortable viewing tempered only by the appearance of her animated rabbit Multe as a kind of alter ego.

Tartan describe their release, in typical publishers’ hyperbole, as "Taxi Driver meets Japanese anime" comparing the film’s style with "Howl’s Moving Castle and other Studio Ghibli titles". This later claim is patently ludicrous, the only similarity being that most of the film is animated. If there is a relation to anime thematically it finds a more appropriate home alongside Satoshi Kon’s remarkable Perfect Blue (1998). While there are more than a few echoes of Taxi Driver, Princess bears more similarities to Paul Schrader’s further study of male disintegration Hardcore (1979). Although occasionally rough around the edges Princess makes up for its restricted budget by thinking outside the box, mixing its media with reckless abandon. Perhaps in the modern world a tale like this can only be told on film through animation – there’s no way anyone could comfortably make a film in which a bathing toddler instinctively reaches out to unzip a man’s flies. Shocking, bloody and sobering Princess makes up for its generic revenge structure with sheer verve. An odd blend of styles and an odd film, but one that demands your attention, if only to prime yourself for Anders Morgenthaler’s Ekko (2007), a live action film also co-written by Mette Heeno. Sadly Tartan’s disk comes with only a trailer, although the menus are gleefully tasteless.

Princess is out on DVD now. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.