The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Genji Monogatari

Title: Genji Monogatari aka The Tale of Genji
Genre: Romance/Drama
Company: Asahi Shimbunsha
Format: Movie; 110 minutes.
Dates: 19 Dec 1987

Synopsis: Lord Genji is the second son of the emperor and his personal favourite. He enjoys a life of ease and spends his time seeking out the company of beautiful women. Though he loves them all, his heart is never quite fulfilled. The falling sakura blossoms seem to signal his loved ones will be leaving him, and as they do he must struggle to understand what he is truly searching for.

The Highlights
Genji: Has issues, but seems genuine.
Art style: Like ancient scrolls.
Wikipedia: Will probably be required to understand the story.
Last ten minutes: What just happened?

The Tale of Genji is really the original harem story; however, instead of a wimpy, awkward teenager as the lead, we are introduced to Lord Genji, the charming and handsome young son of an Emperor. Genji is the classic poet and lover. He is not concerned with politics or business or sport; He lives only to enjoy the beauty of the world around him. He finds this beauty in the women of the court and prefers their company to that of men. When the urge strikes him, he takes them, using his position and charm to win them over. He says he cannot control his feelings, but in his desire Genji is never malicious. He truly believes that he loves each of them and that loving one does not negate the love of another. The women do not agree. His wife, Aoi, feels abandoned and despairs at the failure of their marriage. Another lover grows jealous and tried to eliminate her rivals while a third renounces all and becomes a nun. As his relationships begin to fall apart, Genji confides to a friend, “I have always been true” and in his mind he has been. His friend responds with, “If you had been true just once, you would not be in such trouble.” Genji doesn’t understand how love could ever be bad or wrong.

Even though he lives his life surrounded by beautiful women, Genji never truly feels fulfilled by his relationships. He continues searching, trying to find the one who will finally complete him. When one lover asks him who he is looking for, he starts to realize that perhaps the lady he seeks is one he lost long ago. As the sakura blossoms begin to fall once more, Genji understands that his love cannot keep his ladies by him forever. In the end, they always seem to disappear.

Following along with the story and its Heian social structure may prove difficult for those not familiar with the original 17th century novel. Some research may be required to understand key relationships, which are never properly explained in the film. Minimal focus is given to the court proceedings and the politics going on behind the scenes of Genji’s love affairs, yet these have a huge impact on the outcome of the story.

To provide an authentic feel to this ancient tale, the film’s style is reminiscent of ancient Japanese scrolls, with characters having egg-shaped heads, white faces and small curved lips. Similarly, the soundtrack incorporates traditional instruments into a number of haunting pieces. The director also makes good use of colour, highlighting bright kimonos and fans against plain backgrounds. The details in the fabrics and art are utilized especially well to visualize the subjective beauty of the women in Genji’s eyes. It is this beauty that consumes him and leaves him empty as he gradually loses lovers to choice, death and scandal. The film’s ending is left open to interpretation. There is some dramatic imagery as Genji tries to reconcile his recent discoveries about himself, but the meaning is ambiguous. This scene, along with several others in the film, suffer from long, drawn out shots which dragged the story unnecessarily. Even the camera pans very slowly and there is often minimal animation.

Overall, the film paints a picture of a very human protagonist, with great love but great faults. He pushes too far, trying to mend the mysterious wound in his heart, but life is not so simple. For a poet, perhaps such a tragedy is most fitting.

The Rating: 6

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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