Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hiroyuki Sanada, Mansai Nomura, Hideaki Ito, Eriko Imai
Written by: Yasushi Fukuda, Itaru Era, Baku Yumemakura, based on the novel by Baku Yumemakura
Directed by: Yojiro Takita
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 10/06/2001

Onmyoji (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Butterfly Bliss

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It certainly helps to know something about the 10th century Yin-Yang master Abe no Seimei while watching the new film Onmyoji. In Japan, he's lately been the subject of novels, comics, plays and other films. Certain throwaway details can whiz by pretty quickly, leaving amateurs like myself fairly confused. But within the film's first ten minutes, we get images of vengeful and jealous spirits attacking the real world -- a scary woman appearing out of nowhere, a hand sticking out of a post -- and it quickly becomes clear that we should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

To put it simply, a bad guy called Doson (Hiroyuki Sanada, from the original Ring) wants to destroy the court of the Mikado. He does so by casting spells on babies and other dastardly deeds. A noble and slightly cowardly hero, Minamoto no Hiromaki (Hideaki Ito) teams up with a happy-go-lucky sorcerer, Abe no Seimei (Mansai Nomura), to try and save the day. Oh, and the sorcerer has a beautiful girlfriend (pop singer Eriko Imai) who turns into a butterfly -- a definite high point.

Onmyoji is better when something exciting is going on, as when the sorcerer investigates a mysterious gourd growing from a pine tree, or tries to rid the baby of its mystical affliction. Or, better yet, a disappearing/re-appearing swordfight at the film's climax. Otherwise, it's goofy and campy and unabashedly old-fashioned, from the silent-era acting technique to the overwrought direction. For a full two-hour film, it can be difficult to find something to grab onto at any given time. And yet, it's an eye-popping candy-colored cartoon that happily whiles away an afternoon.

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