by Lillian Csernica on April 17th, 2015
Onmyoji is an entertaining movie. For those not familiar with the terminology, an onmyoji is a practitioner of onmyodo. I encourage you to follow the link, because onmyodo is a fascinating subject. If I get started on it, this post will end up being a lot longer than it should. For our purposes, let’s just say that the onmyoji in this movie, Abe no Seimei, puts the sorcery in “sword and sorcery.” His goofball buddy Minamoto no Hiromasa is the one who wears the sword.
Onmyouji (陰陽師?) is a Japanese movie that was released in 2001 and sent to the US in 2004. Directed by Yōjirō Takita, it tells of the exploits of Abe no Seimei, in Middle Ages, the Onmyouji (also known as: The Yin Yang Master) from the court of the Emperor. He befriended bungling court noble, Minamoto no Hiromasa, who enlists his aid to defend the Heian emperor. Meanwhile, an opposing onmyoji Doson is plotting the downfall of the emperor, while attempting to frame Seimei by unleashing a horde of yōkai to do his bidding.
There are some modern depictions of Onmyouji magic involving divination, transforming paper cutouts into beautiful maidens, and the like. Mansai Nomura is a famous kyogen actor, a type of traditional theater related to noh but of a more comic nature, and this role is considered something of a big transition for him. His portrayal of Abe no Seimei has been described as including a number of ‘foxy’ looks, perhaps in acknowledging the folklore describing Abe no Seimei’s mother as a kitsune. The lead actress, Eriko Imai, a pop singer, has very few lines and little involvement with the plot. The film was a commercial success grossing ¥3,010,000,000 ($36,567,313) becoming the 4th highest earning Japanese production of 2001. The film was also giving a limited theater release in North America where it grossed $16,234 in 3 theaters.
Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai), ready to kill Mansai Nomura.
I will admit it takes the kind of fascination I have for Japanese culture to really get into the action here. Doson is a great Bad Guy. When he sends the “horde of yokai” (monsters) against Abe no Seimei, we get to see the magic-users in the fight to the finish. This makes Onmyoji rather unusual among Japanese historical movies. So many of the taiga dramas are devoted to samurai and political upheavals. Heian period costuming is quite a hoot to the eyes of Western audiences, so that also makes the movie worth watching.
I’m supposed to be listing bad sword and sorcery movies, right? So how did this one make it onto the list? The answer is simple. This is the only sword and sorcery movie I could find on any list that begins with the letter O.
It’s not smart to mess with the onmyoji!