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Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea

FUNimation // R // September 2, 2008
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted September 27, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters." -- Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan has become a staple in most Western cultures as a symbol of tyrannical malice -- often mentioned in the same sentences as Hitler and Napoleon -- but his early life leading up to his reign as leader of the united Mongols is a little fuzzy. It's this mild uncertainty that allows Genghis Khan, aka Blue Wolf: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea, the opportunity to "address" this time period with thematic elasticity. What this Japanese-Mongolian meeting of minds has come up with, by adapting the historical fiction novel of the same name by Seichii Morimura, is a story that tries to establish Genghis Khan as an emotional, lenient, and justified man prior to his reign of conquest. It's a tonally uneven portrait, both as a perplexing historical narrative and as an overblown drama, though the accounts in Genghis Khan still walk the line of stable accurateness throughout its runtime.

Just try not to let the spoken Japanese language bother you too much, though that might get a little difficult when you hear the likes of the non-Mongolian statement "arigato gozaimashita" spoken slowly and with unbearably loud emotional projection. Memoirs of a Geisha's similar language issue also drove me nuts, so take that into consideration.


The Film:



Taking place from around 1160 to his ascent to status of Khan in 1206, Genghis Khan tells the earlier history of the ruler, known in his younger years as Temujin. At the start, we're introduced to the symbolism behind the Blue Wolf -- an emblem that represents a "combiner" of tribes. This symbolic legacy leads into Temujin's birth as that of a mixed-blood son to a "stolen mother" and the head of the tribe, even going so far as incorporating the lore behind the blood clot in his palm to signify his prominent future as a great leader. It doesn't waste too much time in his childhood, but what the film does is skim over some of the "darker" points of his growth. The beginning, instead, seems out for the sole purpose to establish the personalities of Genghis Khan's key players -- his mother, his betrothed wife Borte from another clan, and his "anda" (blood brother) Jamuqa -- that will become integral later on.

This portrayal of Temujin's childhood also seems anxious to whittle his persona into an amiable one that would somehow validate his motives as he ascends to the position of Khan, even though history has always been quick to portray the future Khan as an evil entity. Part of this placation here roots in an overly theatrical range of emotions that drain much of the realism from the story. All the embraces and the bleeding-heart monologues start to push alarm buttons much too quick, which offset some of the genuine moments of emotionality in Genghis. It's a problem that doesn't cease until the film's final moments, which cause it to be a complete struggle in disbelief and eye-rolling theatrics.




Genghis Khan reminds me of watching an attractively-dressed ($30 million) History Channel drama, only without a knowledge-savvy narrator guiding me through the timeline. As Temujin grows older and takes the position as leader of his tribe, his mother does reveal bits of story that aren't shown to us via narration; however, the film's pick-and-choose nature doesn't exactly give an honest feeling about Temujin. We see that he's a dynamic, charismatic entity who wishes for little more than his people's expansion, yet we also see him as a forgiving, emotionally torn individual who seems absent of his signature thirst for blood all throughout his ascension to Khan. It makes it seem like his hands aren't tainted throughout the entire process -- whether as a result of the filmmaker's sly visual style or the story's selectively expository nature -- which, if you can picture tribal cutthroat theatrics in early 12th Century, you'd probably see a notorious leader with more dynamic, non-singular focuses.

As he grows older, Temujin's story becomes all about politics, motives, and retaliation between the tribes, which seems to be Genghis Khan's stongest suit. We're dragged through the culmination of conflict surrounding his marriage to Borte and birth of his son Jochi, as well as through his struggling relationship with his "blood brother" Jamuqa as they conspire in bringing together the Mongolians. Genghis Khan is at its best when it tries to constrain those boiling passionate theatrics long enough to allow meetings between both his tribal brethren and his family members. The script still feels pretty forced in these situations, but at least it expresses restraint long enough for the audience to grasp the real flow of history. Even though he's way too boisterous for the story's own good most of the time, I still found myself enjoying Sorimachi Takashi's performance as Temujin / Genghis Khan enough to stay engaged. He has a dramatic carriage that reminds me a good bit of Ken Watanabe's passionate energy as the Japanese samurai leader in The Last Samurai. Also notable is Korean actress Ara, who plays the female soldier / mistress Kulan -- though her presence seems oddly balanced with the rest of the cast.

According to most accounts of his history, there's a bit of room to wiggle and work with Temujin's early history and, as far as this mildly-researched reviewer is aware, most of the actions utilized are at least accurate in occurrence -- though, the timeline seems out-of-whack. Everything in the film happens much the way it's portrayed elsewhere, but the filmmakers have clipped, shifted, and utilized the fabric of historical encapsulation to help compress Genghis Khan into its two-hour-plus span. But that's to be expected, especially when both historical ambiguity and timeliness have to be taken into account for this moderately high-budget tribute to a significant figure in history. Genghis Khan might feel inauthentic and stagey in its projection, but at least it makes a strong push towards historical correctness somewhere in its melodramatic efforts.


The DVD:




Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea comes packaged from FUNimation in a standard keepcase presentation with attractive poster-like coverart.

The Video:

Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image, Genghis Khan shows off its high budget well in a strongly detailed, richly saturated image. It has the appearance of having a dusty veil draped over at many points, but it seems fitting for the cinematography style. Edge enhancement, pixilation, and aliasing never really showed much of any problems anywhere, though black levels were a shade on the weak side. Altogether, this is a solid presentation for a strong visual experience.

The Audio:

Equally as satisfying is Genghis Khan's Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation, which wraps the viewer up in the rich audio presentation that comes packed with galloping hooves and clamoring warfare. Vocal clarity sounded just fine, though I relied on the subtitles, while the indistinguishably supportive score remained an afterthought for the entire film. The multidirectional usage was actually a pretty nice surprise, letting sounds effects such as the horse gallops, dancing flames, and flying arrows sweep across the entire soundstage. Optional English subtitles are available. There's also an English 2.0 track available which, oddly, seemed to be the exact same text as the subtitles. Whether we're talking "dubtitles" here or the inverse is unknown, but the subtitles worked just fine textually.

The Extras:

You get the opportunity to pick and choose your scenes with a Scene Selection, but other than that there are no other supportive materials. The best extra attached on the disc is a trailer for Yoji Yamada's fantastic close to his Samurai Trilogy, Love and Honor.

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Final Thoughts:

Temujin may very well have presented himself in a similar manner to the way that Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea implies, but the overly theatrical tone and sappy connective drama doesn't sell the concept well. Chronologically the story works well enough with historical flow, yet it leaves enough of the questionable, dark moments of his early years (lengthy periods of abandonment with his family, potential poisoning of his son, etc,) seeming a little lopsided as a positive glorification of Mongolia's uniter. Still, the material inside is condensed into a two-hour rundown with enough action and alternate dramatic successes that make it worth a Rental for its Cliff Notes' type of overview.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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