Gods and monsters bedevil mortals in this supernatural period drama set in 10th-century Japan. Amidst struggles for the throne, the capital of Japan is moved to Heian-kyo ("city of peace and tranquility"), later Kyoto, and the Mikado (Ittoku Kishibe) the emperor — relocates his court accordingly. But he finds neither peace nor tranquility: His wives and nobles seethe with discontent and his infant son the new heir apparent falls under a powerful curse that turns him into a pustulent horror. The Mikado turns first to Doson (Hiroyuki Sanada), his senior in-house onmyoji a combination astrologer, necromancer and all-around advisor (the word literally means "yin-yang master"). Doson fails to cure the baby, so his desperate patron calls in powerful freelance onmyoji Seimei (Mansai Nomura). Seimei in turn enlists the aid of soulful samurai-in-training Hiromasa (Hideaki Ito) and immortal Lady Aone (Kyoko Keizumi), who guards the nearby tomb of her late husband, Prince Sawara (Masato Hagiwara). Sawara, who died 150 years earlier, was betrayed and unjustly vilified, and his spirit could be a powerful supernatural ally to a wicked practitioner of dark arts. Seimei exorcises the baby, but uncovers a conspiracy with ambitions that extend far beyond the Mikado's immediate household. Hiromasa, meanwhile, has fallen in love with noblewoman Sukehime (Yui Natsukawa), whose face he's never seen, and has in turn entranced her with his melancholy flute playing. Seimei and his allies must defeat the evil-doers before their malevolent influence infects all of Kyoto. Baku Yumemakura's Onmyoji manga series, inspired by Heian period (794-1192) folk stories, won Japan's Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2000 and spawned both a TV series and widespread interest in real-life court onmyoji Abe no Seimei. Yojiro Takita's surprisingly old-fashioned film, which relies on Japanese supernatural conventions exotic to most Westerners from servant-gods like the beautiful Mitsumushi (Eriko Imai), who changes into a butterfly, to crinkle-fanged demons who can possess vulnerable humans was one of Japan's biggest grossing films of 2001. The quality of the CGI-heavy special effects is variable and Nomura's fey performance as Seimei gives his relationship with Hiromasa a distinctly homoerotic cast that may or may not be intentional, but the demon zombies and Doson's cackling familiar are crowd pleasers. Ironically, the film's most haunting moment is a quiet B&W flashback in which Lady Aone gains immortality by eating the jewel-like flesh of a merman, an image that's both generally spooky and piercingly specific.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: R
- Review: Gods and monsters bedevil mortals in this supernatural period drama set in 10th-century Japan. Amidst struggles for the throne, the capital of Japan is moved to Heian-kyo ("city of peace and tranquility"), later Kyoto, and the Mikado (Ittoku Kishibe) … (more)