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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Onmyoji II
Onmyoji II
Geneon // Unrated // November 2, 2004
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted December 3, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: I've long been a fan of movies from Japan, be it the Godzilla series or the usual anime that I review on a regular basis here. While I typically don't qualify as a slavering fanboy of such material (others would say Otaku) nor as a true xenophile, I have long enjoyed watching material from other countries as a means by which to take a critical look at my own viewpoints and culture. After all, what better way to see how you fit into the bigger scheme of things than to explore religions, superstitions and cultures that are far removed from your own? That said, I took a look at a movie released here by Geneon, one of the best domestic distributors of anime in the US, by the name of Onmyoji II. The movie was the sequel to Onmyoji I, a movie reviewed by my friend Matt last year, and contained the same characters doing what amounted to the same type of things in a medieval Japanese setting. Here's my take of what took place this time in a show that was either nominated or won a few awards based on artistic direction or thematic content.

Onmyoji II is set during the Heian period of medieval Japan in the capital city of the country. The country is ruled by an emperor who relies heavily on his royal court to assist him in running the day to day affairs of the country but especially the events that relate to the supernatural. The story itself focuses on the events that transpire when a curse breaks the seal protecting Earth from the wrath of a powerfully destructive god. The first notice anyone gets is a series of bloody attacks on members of the nobility, all of whom are killed after having some part of their body bitten off. As chief Onmyoji, or "yin-yang master", Abe No Seimei is called to solve the curse and restore order with the help of his faithful pal, Hiromasa (a comic sidekick at times but always loyal in the face of grave danger). Seimei figures out that with the passing of the eighth victim, something bad will happen and the omen of a solar eclipse only serves to support his will in the matter.

It seems that when the eighth body part is severed, a legendary sword will fall into the hands of a man that made a pact with the avenging god; a pact used to restore his family to power at any cost. Seimei can't let him go through with it as it would mean the end of all he holds sacred, including the lives of friends and family. While Princess Himiko seeks to join the duo in unveiling the secret of the curse, Seimei figures out that a local mage, Genkaku must have something to do with the matter (the guy has incredible healing powers and is revered by all he helps). If this seems a bit disjointed; so be it because there was a lot going on here and the subtleties of the Japanese language were not captured all that well with either the English language dub or the subtitles. The bottom line is that fans of sword and sorcery movies will forgive the minor issues with plot holes and understated background information in favor of the excellent looking fantasy director Yojiro Takita carved out of the mythic fable this was based on.

Overall, the themes of redemption, winning at all costs, and honor as a way of life all were served in heaping helpings here. The special effects were on par with some of the 1960's Godzilla movies but if you could put that aside and focus on the bigger picture, you'd find it had a fair amount to enjoy. Just like the many campy releases in our own country, the show was fanciful at best and a bit slow at worst but never did it look like it took itself too seriously. The inclusion of the Behind the Scenes feature also helped explain some of the underlying premises to the action and plot although I'd suggest you save watching it for after your first viewing (at least). Due to the type of show this was, I'm going to rate it as a Rent It since many genre fans will focus on the negative aspects rather than the breezier fun it had to offer but also due to the liberal translations employed that frequently left me scratching my head.

Picture: Onmyoji II was presented in the original 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color as intended. For the most part, I can see why it has been up for the artistic awards as the colors were lush, the flesh tones accurate and the contrasts as good as you'll see on most Japanese releases. There was a bit of grain from time to time and some will claim the edge enhancement is not to their liking but the amount of detail included was nothing short of fantastic in most cases and breaking down every little nuance of the picture is something you're not going to find here (my impression is that very few fans of the genre are going to want a frame by frame description).

Sound: Onmyoji II's audio was presented with a choice of the original Japanese track or an English language dub, each in a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround (with optional subtitles in English). First off, let me point out that the subtitles and English language track were not identical although they generally said similar things (most of the time). This is a concern for people who know that this kind of movie is going to have some meaning attached to each word and altering those words will alter the movie in the process. Sonically, the original track was crisp and clear with a sort of lyrical quality to what was said, even if I didn't understand it without the subtitles. The English dub lacked the finesse with the vocals but each managed to display a lot of directionality on the surround speakers; more so than the original at that. Particularly in the fighting sequences, and there were a lot of them, the speakers kicked into overdrive, making it a pleasing audio experience.

Extras: Onmyoji II's extras show that Geneon was listening to criticism about the first release by including a wonderfully detailed Making of documentary that lasted over an hour. The cast, director, and crew all had a chance to chime in on the movie (and the original too) in ways that really helped explain some of what was going on; particularly helpful to myself in this review. The subtitles may or may not have been accurate but they seemed coherent and intelligent so either way; I enjoy the feature. The other extras included a series of trailers, teasers and television promotional spots (most in Japanese and others with English subtitles) as well as a decent cast biography for the lead players in the movie. This was head and shoulders above the original movie and I'm sure fans will appreciate it a lot that Geneon listened to their pleas for extras.

Final Thoughts: Conceptually, Onmyoji II works on several levels as it related to Japanese culture and history; artistically, it also worked fairly well but intellectually, it needed a lot more polish to pull off the source material as being worth your hard earned money. To sum up the movie, it looked great but was less filling. The style of the entire production was such that most people will either love it or hate it with little middle ground. Personally, I thought it was pretty interesting to watch (and I had to watch it a couple of times with some spot checking after that) but the replay value will be a matter of personal taste since the punch lines and plot devices were such that once you knew what was going to happen, they had less effect. Check it out if you have any interest in this genre of movie but also look for Onmyoji I in order to better understand the characters within the show.

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