The Tale of Genji
This is an adaptation of Murasaki Shikibu's literary masterpiece, which is the world's first novel, set in the Heian period of Japanese history, chronicling the life and loves of Hikaru Genji, retainer to the royal court and son of the Emperor by a courtier. The story follows him through the years as he romances various women and serves in the court until his exile.
Slow has a whole new meaning. To say Sugii Gisaburo's direction is plodding is an understatement. A sentient turtle would yawn at this movie. I don't know how many minutes we see good ol' Genji dancing around with fans in the falling cherry blossoms, but I'm sure it's well over the posted 110.
Still, there are good points to this movie. The glimpse into the Heian era, with its rich culture and aesthetic nature is a boon for history buffs, and the pace does go somewhat with this slow, little changing way of life that they must have lived centuries ago. The art is fairly well-done, as the art style mimics the art of the era, and the people look like they came straight off ancient paintings and prints. The music fits quite well, lulling the viewer into a hypnotic trance at times, using traditional instrumentation to full advantage.
The characterization and direction, however, leave something to be desired. Scene transitions seem disjointed, years passing by without explanation, and the viewer not always knowing exactly *which* woman Genji is chasing now. Genji himself (and every other character, for that matter) is fairly impersonally depicted, and though the inner angst and psychological complexes (move over Hamlet!) are evident, surely they could have been analyzed in greater detail. As is, there's more than enough symbolism in here to make a high school literature teacher salivate (the cherry blossoms are a metaphor for short-lived happiness, if you didn't already know), but most other characters are very one-dimensional, almost like it's the same person with a different mask on. Is it perhaps that way for Genji as well? Who knows... unless you read the novel?
Which is, ultimately, my suggestion after watching this flick. It's a decent primer on Heian era culture, but when it comes down to pacing and plot, there's just a lot missing here that surely can be found during a few good hours of reading a good translation of Shikibu Murasaki's classic work. If anything, this is just like any other classic book-turned-movie. It's no substitute, but if you haven't read it, you now know you should, and if you have, then you get to watch it summarized with pretty pictures across your screen. Just keep in mind this thing is almost as good as Valium.
This rating only applies if you're in the mood for something historically and culturally enriching. Pure action fans would give this one star. Heed our advice: Read The Book. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Occasional, non-explicit scenes of nudity and adult situations make this unsuitable for children ... though you'd need a superhuman child to have the attention span to watch this movie anyway. In fact, most adults don't have the attention span to survive this.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Tale of Genji © 1987 Asahi Publishing Co / Asahi National Broadcasting Co Ltd / Nippon Herald Films Inc (Japan)
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