Adapted from the award-winning Japanese novel Teito Monogatari, this film is quite a package – revelling in dark fantasy and special effects-laden occult fiction. It was notably successful in its native country, and apparently spawned a new wave of similar occult-themed films, manga, anime and video games. It certainly has a lot to offer, and it was certainly entertaining, but for whatever reason, I found the film somewhat wanting.
Set in the early 20th century, and beginning in the year 1912, the story revolves around a powerful onmyoji (simply put, special kind of Japanese magician) named Yasunori Kato, who wants to awaken the spirit of Taira no Masakado in order to destroy Tokyo, thus weakening the Japanese Empire. He has a wide array of mystical powers at his disposal, and he apparently needs Yukari Tatsumiya, a descendant of Masakado, to complete his plan. Standing in his way are Yasumara Hirai and his followers, who are trying to protect her and stop Kato’s plan.
I don’t think I’ve summarised the plot very well, but to be fair, it was fairly difficult to follow. At the very least I managed to find a version of the film that did have subtitles, so at least I could understand what was happening. I do like the idea, but I think the story moves at such a slow and sometimes meandering pace. The film is set in three different years, first in 1912, then in 1923, and finally in 1927, and throughout the film, the story gets carried away. The film is 135 minutes long, but in terms of pacing, it seems to fumble all over the place. It’s worth mentioning that the plot of the film is based on the first four volumes of Teito Monogatari, and let’s just say I know what happens to try and cover so much ground within only two hours. It leaves the film with a rather jumbled and confused narrative. Imagine what would happen if somebody decided to make a film based on the first three books of the Song of Ice and Fire series.
The acting in this film is pretty good, but the many of the characters themselves leave much to be desired for. However, Kyusaku Shimada’s villainous character is the strongest in the film. He gives a suitably cold and creepy performance as Kato, the supernatural villain who harbours a grudge against the nation. Hirai could have been a pretty good character, except for the fact that he doesn’t really last long in the film’s plot, wherein he’s killed off within the first act.
In terms of visuals, however, the film has some of the hallmarks of an epic film. Made on a budget of 800,000,000 yen (or $8 million), it was one of the most expensive Japanese productions at the time, and it had a reconstruction of the Ginza district of 1927 made specifically for this film, along with a life-size set and 3000 costumed extras. It’s very much like how Hollywood used to make historical epics back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, but it’s not too opulent for its own good. The film also sports some neat creature effects reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters. All in all, say what you will about the narrative, this film at least has some charm.
- Score: 63%
- Grade: C