Onmyoji (released on DVD in North America & Europe in 2005)
Also known as Onmyoji: The Yin Yang Master (US release)
Director: Yojiro Takita
Writing Credits: Baku Yumemakura
Review by: Michael Lohr (SoSF Regular Contributor)
Onmyoji (translation: Yin Yang Master) is the quintessential Japanese fantasy epic. Tohokushinsha (a subsidiary of Toho, the premier entertainment corporation in Japan) released this campy but wonderful movie to widespread acclaim in Japan in 2001, but the movie received little fanfare elsewhere. It since was released on limited theatrical play worldwide and then placed on DVD.
It stars Mansai Nomura as Seimei, Kyoto’s court Onmyoji (a kind of fortune teller or village shaman), and is scripted by Yasushi Fukuda, Baku Yumemakura, and Itaru Era (based on the famous fantasy novels by Japanese author, Baku Yumemakura â€“ if you can find the rare English language translations of his novels then donâ€™t hesitate to pick one up). Director Yojiro Takita does a marvelous job, considering he is best known for his short comic films and classic Japanese pornographic movies (he was an apprentice at Nikkatsu studios).
The film is a haunting and sumptuous tale of a court magician, the legendary Abe no Seimei (Mansai Nomura) and his struggles with the forces of evil. With the assistance of a young warrior, Hiromasa (Hideaki Ito, of Pyrokinesis andf Princess Blade), Seimei does his best to keep order in the land.
But demons and ghosts rule the burning lands, and the Heian Emperor must rely upon the Imperial Order of the Onmyoji to protect the kingdom. However, as the birth of the Emperor’s heir approaches, the kingdom is suddenly plunged into darkness. It is up to the most talented of the Order of the Onmyoji, Seimei, to face his former teacher and now enemy, Doson. All the while dark magic threatens the land. Butterflies turn into beautiful girls, servant gods are conjured from paper dolls, and hapless humans find themselves face to face with powerful demons at every turn.
The Japanese concept of magic and good versus evil is heavily explored in this movie. Even though culturally these are universal themes, there are several Japan-centric nuisances that are explored in Onmyoji.
This Japanese costume epic is set in the classic Heian period (A.D. 794-1185) when Kyoto was the cradle of a blooming Japanese civilization. The movie is full of demons, ghosts, sorcerers, fortunetellers, heroic warriors, political intrigue, jealousy and dangerous betrayal.
All the elements of a good fantasy adventure movie are present. The acting is of a quality you get in most Hollywood films, and those industry standard, English language dubbed, Kung Fu movies. The Japanese film’s effects are a combination of animatronics and opticals similar to Hollywood effects of the 1980s, along with CGI on a par with American television such as Star Trek: The Next Generation or the Sci-Fi Channel production of Frank Herbert’s Children Of Dune. This is Japan’s answer to Lord Of The Rings. If you have not seen this movie yet, then do yourself a favor and rent it as soon as you can. The DVD is available worldwide and it is worth the rental money investment.
Pioneer offers two different versions of Onmyoji on Region 1 DVD, a barebones edition whose only extras are a trailer and selective filmographies, and a special edition that contains behind the scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes, and a variety of trailers. This is a very unique look at Japanese fantasy beyond the Manga/Anime fare. I highly recommend viewing this movie.
About Michael Lohr:
Michael Lohr is a professional journalist, outdoorsman, poet, whiskey connoisseur, music critic, treasure hunter and adventurer. His writing has appeared in such diverse magazines as Rolling Stone, Esquire, The Economist, Southern Living, Sporting News and Menâ€™s Journal, to name a few.
His webpage can be found at: http://www.internet.is/artist/writer/michael_lohr.htm