We don’t get to see too many Japanese live-action fantasy films in these regions and when Pioneer delivered the Special Edition DVD of "Onmyoji" to my desk, I was eager to find out what this film looks and plays like, and I was in for a thoroughly enjoyable treat.
The Onmyoji were the sages of the Japanese Emperors during the Heian period between 794 – 1185 AD. Soothsayers and equipped with magic powers in an era where demons and ghosts were commonplace in the world. They helped protect the kingdom but wit hthe power also comes the lure of abusing it. When the birth of the emperor’s heir leads to political intrigue, one of the Onmyoji seizes the opportunity to begin a sinister scheme to remove the Mikado from his throne – by having him killed – and claim the power for himself. But with the help of Seimei, another Onmyoji his schemes are constantly challenged.
Full of mysique and mystery, "Onmyoji" is a wonderful film that combines a beautiful atmosphere with a gripping story and powerful performances. From the first frame the movie conjures up a world of powers and demons without ever begin too dark as we always know that the real demons are the people themselves. It then takes us on a ride filled with romance, magic and power struggles, all framed by beautiful images and sets. The film is a bit slow at times and the story could have developed at a slightly faster pace, but nonetheless the movie remains captivating at all times as well watch the events unfold.
Pioneer Entertainment is presenting "Onmyoji" in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that has been enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. The image is wonderfully clean and clear without distracting grain or blemishes. Color reproduction of the transfer is also very good, with vibrant hues and well-saturated colors. Skin tones are naturally rendered and the atmospheric production that oftentimes revels in strong colors is beautifully brought to the screen. Blacks are also very well rendered with solid black levels, giving the image good visual depth and shadows that never break up. No notable signs of edge-enhancement are evident in the transfer maintaining the smooth, film-like look of the production. Compression has been handled equally well and no distracting compression artifacts spoil the experience.
The DVD contains 5.1 channel Dolby Digital language tracks in Japanese and English. While the English dub is not nearly as good as the Japanese original track, it is still one of the better dubs without the enunciating exaggerations found on so many other dubbed titles. The sound field is wide and makes good use of the surround channels. The frequency response of the tracks is wide and offers good basses and clear high ends that are free of distortion. The dynamic range is ensuring that even the most subtle moments of the film are nicely reproduced while allowing plenty of headroom for the more aggressive and explosive moments.
Coming as a Special Edition from Pioneer Entertainment, the DVD also contains a few interesting extras – a standard version of the film without the extras is also available but not part of this review.
"Making Of Onmyoji" is an insightful featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the film. With footage from the set as well as interviews and a closer look at many of the film’s props, this featurette is indeed a little highlight of the DVD. It covers many aspects of the film and how it was put together and also includes a number of interview segments. It is much more candid than your typical promo featurettes found on most of today’s DVDs, and as such so much more enjoyable.
An interview featurette is also included, giving directory Yojiro Takita, producer Tetsuji Hayashi and others the chance to elaborate on the film, the story and the production in general. All of these interviews have, of course, been subtitled.
The "Special Ending" section contains 3-minutes of footage of Seimei going through a series of combat and magic stances from the film in front of a black background. It may have been part of a character or costume study or maybe was intended for use elsewhere. Sadly no information is supplied to that end.
A series of teasers, trailers and TV Spots are also included on the DVD, alongside the filmographies of the principal cast and crew members. The Special Edition also contains a 12-page booklet with historical background information, an overview of the characters in the story, a brief terminology guide and information about the Onmyo philosophy.
I found "Onmyoji" to be a thoroughly entertaining and captivating film. Full of intriguing characters and situations, and spiced up with its beautiful cinematography, this fantasy movie is a film no fan of Asian fantasy and martial arts films should miss. The fact that Pioneer has created such a wonderful DVD for this film should be reason enough to pick it up on your next stop to the video store.