Onmyoji (Japan 2001)

Rating: **
Review Date: 10/18/03
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada

Surprisingly poor, considering the hype and the high production values. Pioneer will release crap like this in the U.S., but not "Gun Crazy" (2002)? There is no justice... Anyway, this is a period piece based on a fantasy novel very much like the Yagyu Jubei tale "Reborn From Hell: Samurai Armageddon" (1998). A prince is falsely accused of destroying the capital city, so he is put to death. His vengeful spirit returns to wreak havoc, but is sealed away by powerful magic. 150 years later, a power-mad Taoist priest (known as an Onmyoji) decides to reawaken the prince's spirit in an attempt to unleash hell on earth, and it's up to a curious band of four people to stop it.

While the film is attractive, it suffers from being tedious and downright boring. Typical of modern Japanese cinema, the pacing is appallingly sluggish and the digital effects are embarrassingly tacky. The writing and acting are severely overwrought and melodramatic, making me wonder why I should care about any of the characters. There's also an interesting homoerotic angle to the story which caught me off guard, but it never went any further than just a nod and wink. The one thing worth mentioning that truly stands out in the film is the legendary Hiroyuki Sanada. He truly shines throughout the film and is wonderful to watch. The rest of the cast does a fine job, but just isn't very interesting. Overall, "Onmyoji" is pretty standard fare that's more disappointing than it ought to be.