Thursday, September 3, 2009

Onmyoji (2001)

Strange things are happening in the new capital city. On the eve of the new Prince's birth, a demon suddenly appears and inhabits the baby's body. The emperor sends for young Hiromasa, a gentle court noble. Hiromasa is a young man, full of daydreams. He plays the flute with an almost magical talent, and is doing so outside his home at that moment, drawing to him a mysterious woman in a rickshaw. She comes to hear his playing now and again and lingers, sadness in her voice over a lost love. Hiromasa calls her Lady of the Full Moon. But he is broken from his attempts at luring her from her vehicle by the summons from the court, where he and the emperor discuss the skills of young onmyoji, Abe no Seimei. Of course, Seimei's got mad magical skills, as you will find out from a conversation in the beginning that I think I found funnier than it was meant to be, and is well known in the court, not only for his talent and intelligence, but his laziness and lack of interest in court activities.

Seimei prefers to lounge around his home with his servent-gods, several beautiful girls whom he summons with magical paper dolls, and one uber-cute butterfly girl played by Eriko Imai, a Japanese pop singer. Despite his general lack of interest, Seimei is persuaded to return with Hiromasa (to whom he has an almost unnatural attraction) to the court to see what can be done to help the new Prince.

The movie is set in the Heian Era of Japan, a time known for its courtly pursuits, astronomy, learning, and the rise of the samurai. Onmyoji were court nobles who were skilled in divination, astrology, supernatural protective arts, and the wearing of very strange-looking hats. Abe no Seimei was an actual character from Japanese legend, whose mother was said to be a kitsune (a fox god known for seducing human men). The actor, Manasai Nomura (Ran), has the look of a kitsune, and his facial expressions are at once serene and comical. He seems to float when he moves and due to his classical theatre training, is beautiful watch in his movements.

The English voice actors, if you must watch it on dubbed, do one of the best jobs of any dubbed version I've seen. However, the dialogue, while running very close in the dubbed version, is funnier in the subtitles. Especially the almost childlike questions from Hiromasa (Hideaki Ito, Princess Blade) as he is opened up to a whole new world in his exploits with Abe no Seimei.

The movie had a fairly small budget, but has a wonderful, artistically colorful appearance and the use of a little bit of not so impressive CGI. The first time I watched the movie, about six or seven years ago, I found it very funny. The second time I got something entirely different from it. There is humor, a little bit of fighting, and enough supernatural to be called a ghost story. The romantic entanglements of the characters are nicely downplayed. Treason, lost love, resurrection, hauntings, and court intrigue abound as the characters grow and change and mature through their ordeal, and there is never a dull moment.

Onmyoji was inspired by a set of books by Baku Yumemakura, which inspired the anime Shonen Onmyoji. With the popularity of the movie, a TV series was created as well as a sequel movie. The acting and fight choreography are both excellent. Weaving folklore, history, and brilliant storytelling, Onmyoji is a very fun movie that has every essential ingredient for a good fairy tale.


  1. Great review. I might actually have this film somewhere in my collection unwatched. I think I'm about to remedy that.

  2. Cool, like I said, I got two different experiences both times I watched it. Let me know what you think when you do.