Geneon // 2003 // 113 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // January 11th, 2005
When the curse breaks the seal of a rampaging ancient god, the mightiest onmyoji returns!
Abe no Seimei (Mansai Nomura), Japan's most renowned onmyoji, is back. In this adaptation of Bake Yumemakura's novels, Seimei and his companion Hiromasa (Hideaki Ito) are asked to investigate the mysterious, savage, and possibly demon-related deaths of several Daimyo officials. In their investigation, they will cross paths with the tomboy princess Himiko (Kyoko Fukada) and the biwa-playing Susa (Hayato Ichihara). There is a strange connection between Himiko and Susa, a connection represented by the four-headed serpent sigils burned into their arms. Seimei and Hiromasa will also encounter Master Genkaku (Kiichi Nakai), a healer who lives in a nearby forest. What part does Genkaku play in these events? What exactly is the nature of the relationship between Himiko and Susa? How does Himiko's sleepwalking tie into the demonic attacks? What is the dark secret being harbored by Himiko's father, the Right Minister Lord Yasamuro?
Not having seen the original Onmyoji, I was a little hesitant about going into this film without prior knowledge of the characters and story, but my fears were mostly unjustified. The story here is pretty much a stand-alone tale, but I do think I missed something in not having seen the development of the friendship between Seimei and Hiromasa. With that out of the way, let me say that, while not without its flaws, this is an entertaining film.
Many aspects of the Shinto religion -- including its legends and ceremonies -- are nicely woven into the plot, and these aspects lend a certain degree of credence to the more fantastical elements of the story. Having said that, I also have to admit that some of the elements of fantasy don't really play well; it has nothing to do with budget or visual effects limitations, but some things simply work better in the pages of a novel (or possibly even the manga adapted from Yumemakura's novels) than they do on screen. (In this case, I'm talking about the demonic transformations as well as certain aspects of the film's climax.) There are also times when some of the exposition and backstory bring things to a halt; the story wouldn't make much sense without the information they provide, but their effect on the pace can be a little jarring.
Onmyoji II is presented in a very nice anamorphic transfer. There's a hint of grain and just a bit of enhancement, but those are my only quibbles. On the audio end, you get a very good Dolby 5.1 mix of the original Japanese audio track. There's a healthy amount of bass action, and surround use is plentiful; the hellish growls thrown out by the rear channels during the demon attacks are particularly sweet. (You also have the option of an English dub, but why bother?) Extras include a rather lengthy making-of featurette (it clocks in at more than an hour), which covers the making of the film from the first day of shooting all the way through post-production; it's nice to see such an in-depth featurette included on what some might consider a niche market release. There are also filmographies for the cast and crew, and more theatrical trailers than you'll have time to watch.
Onmyoji II isn't a great film, but it a rather good one, and it's certainly worth a rental. I definitely want to see the original, and I'd kill to get my hands on translated versions of the source novels. These films made a boatload of cash in Japan, so hopefully we'll get more episodes in the series.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Making of Onmyoji II" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailers and Promos
* Official Site
* Onmyoji Review