Title: Genji Monogatari Sennenki aka The Tale of Genji
Company: Tezuka Productions/TMS Entertainment
Format: 11 episodes
Dates: 15 Jan 2009 – 26 Mar 2009
Synopsis: The Shining Prince Lord Genji is the second son of the emperor, born to low ranking but beautiful wife who dies while Genji is still small. Several years later, his father remarries a young princess, Lady Fujitsubo, just a few years older than Genji , and he immediately falls deeply in love with her. As he grows older Genji meets and loves many other beautiful women, though he can never quite forget the lovely princess whose touch is forbidden.
Genji’s appeal: Baffling.
Direction: Intrusive and annoying.
Visuals: Trying way too hard.
Story and context: Well explained.
Lord Genji is a handsome gentleman, a smooth talker and a wonderful dancer. It seems that’s all he needs to have women clamouring to be with him. On the surface he seems nice – he is polite and refined – but he is also demanding , willing to break the rules and take what he wants. What he desires are the most beautiful women of the court and his seduction is never spurned, except by Lady Fujitsubo and his own wife Aoi, and even then not for long. In fact, for several of the women even seduction is not necessary. He grabs their hand and they know what will happen next. He gets what he wants, but the ladies’ infatuation with him seems unfounded and forced. One becomes so obsessed, she summons an evil spirit to attack her rivals. Another says she will not give him her name so that he must find her, and then shows up at his doorstop the next day.
Lord Genji is, apparently, irresistible, but the love that he professes seems shallow. Even as he spouts poetry to a lady, he cannot forget his love for his step-mother, Lady Fujitsubo. Because of this, his words ring false and he cannot be trusted. Does Genji actually love any of these women? What is love to him, beyond physical intimacy? The series does not address these questions well and the relationships that he develops never seem more than mutual desire. Even the love making scenes look passionless, as if the characters are simply acting out parts. This happens an average of once an episode, making it feel like a chore and also leading the audience to wonder which lady Genji will bed this week.
Unlike its film counterpart, the series takes the time to explain the court procedures and the lineage of each character via narration from Murasaki, the young girl Lord Genji takes into his house. Her explanations are essential for understanding the complicated network of characters and societal rituals and provide a good framework for the story. The political aspects of the story and several of the side characters are given time to develop; Genji’s relationship with his brother-in-law keeps him somewhat grounded while his ever vigilant servant provides perspective and humour.
The director, Dezaki Osamu, obviously tries to make the visuals reflect the artistry of the famous and melodramatic original work, but instead they distract and take away from the story. Almost every scene has something falling in front of the camera: rain in the fall, snow in the winter and sakura blossoms in the spring. The rare scenes that lack this visual noise are treated to bright lens flares. Many scenes are purposefully blurred, often to the extent that the same characters appear in multiple on the screen. Other scenes take place in a ridiculous slow-motion while still others employ the triple scene repeat most often seen in shounen action series. It’s hard to even imagine what the director is trying to achieve with these effects. They are harsh, unnecessary and feel very amateurish – ironic since Dezaki has been directing since the 1960s and has worked on such well regarded classics as The Rose of Versaille. Regardless, the direction makes this series feel childish instead of artsy.
The Tale of Genji tells a cohesive story involving the high society of Heian period Japan with fairly well developed characters, yet their relationships and motivations feel hollow. The love in this love story doesn’t feel real and in the end, that’s the key that holds this series back from being something more.
The Rating: 5
Reviewed by: Kaikyaku