Starring: Mansai Nomura Hideaki Ito Kiichi Nakai Kyôko Fukada Eriko Imai Running time: 112 min.
Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr
“Onmyoji II” is “Departures” director Yojiro Takita’s sequel to his 2001 film “Onmyoji.” Both are based on the series of novels by Baku Yumemakura and set in the capital of Heian during the period of the same name, in a world where demons, magic and onmyoji (basically, sorcerers) exist. Returning from the first film are heroes Abe no Seimei (Mansai Nomura), the sly, egotistical onmyoji, and the bumbling but always well-meaning Lord Hiromasa (Hideaki Ito). This time around, they have to solve the mystery of a demon who is attacking noblemen by biting and severing a different body part from each of them.
A handful of new characters are thrown into the mix to shake things up. One of them is Lady Himiko (Kyôko Fukada, who played the pop star in Takeshi Kitano’s “Dolls”), a “tomboy princess,” as she is called by the other nobles, who is skilled with the bow and arrow. Susa (Hayato Ichihara) is a young biwa (Japanese lute) player whom Hiromasa meets one night, joining in the melody he is playing with his flute and making a new friend in the process. There is also Genkaku (Kiichi Nakai), an onmyoji who is considered to be a god by the villagers he treats with his healing powers. In an early scene, he discusses his beliefs and allegiances with Seimei, voicing his sympathies with the poor while Seimei, when asked about his relationship with the genteel, positions himself as staunchly neutral. Later on, Genkaku is revealed to have more villainous motives in mind for his opposition towards the Heian nobility.
As in the first film, Seimei and Hiromasa work along with Mitsumushi, Seimei’s pixie minion (played by Eriko Imai), as a ghostbusting team. Eventually, they learn that the demon’s attacks are connected to the massacre of a clan known as Izumo eighteen years previous and are meant to unleash the power of a certain sword which will make its wielder a new god. Hidden secrets regarding the Izumo clan’s remaining survivors are eventually discovered, but Seimei and Hiromasa’s investigation and efforts to prevent the ensuing mayhem are far more entertaining. The two of them make a fine bromantic duo, with the perpetually smug Seimei serving as the Sherlock Holmes to the touchingly loyal Hiromasa’s Watson. They share many enjoyable scenes together, including one in which they research the history of the sword by consulting scrolls that magically hover in mid-air. With their friendship encountering few if any challenges or changes from the first film, they maintain a good rapport with each other, and it was nice to rejoin their company for one more adventure.
“Onmyoji II” remains fairly close to the formula and tone of its predecessor, in that it, too, is a big, often cheesy but mostly fun adventure chock full of magic spells, gods and monsters. There are some elements that I would’ve liked to see put to better use, like the two weaselly lords who scheme to overthrow Seimei and replace him with Genkaku as Heian’s most powerful onmyoji, but for every missed opportunity there is an amusing or interesting moment to make up for it. Mitsumushi is even given something to do besides casting spells and repeating Seimei’s words in a great scene in which she interrupts a sumo practice session, plucks a few hairs (required for a spell) from their leader and escapes before they can clobber her. All in all, “Onmyoji II” simply brings more of the same qualities that can be found in the first “Onmyoji,” offering a fantasy romp that kept me entertained enough for its two-hour duration.