When it comes to guilty pleasure-esque cinema, for me, seeing Onmyoji fits right in there between Excalibur and Labyrinth, the only big difference being the sometimes-dazzling-yet-mostly-delightfully-laughable CG effects the likes of which predate the aforementioned films. However, Onmyoji doesn't rest on technical SFX innovation. There are actual puppets, impressive feats of make-up, hypnotic costuming and set design that set the stage for this well-known tale concerning the legendary Heian capitol city (now modern day Kyoto), her court drama, her heroes and enemies and, of course, her imperial ghostbuster #1 Abe no Seimei (if you're ever in Kyoto you may want to check out his shrine). All in all I give Onmyoji a solid A for pulling off history-buffing fantasy film excellence amid what could have been a potential "rotten tomatoes" recipe for disaster in terms of what feats and imagery the legend behind the story dictated. Besides, I have a feeling that seeing this flick will have proved helpful when it comes time for final exams. I mean, you try saying the name Sakanoue no Tamuramaro three times in a row without gagging on your tongue --- that's how difficult it is to keep facts straight in this class.
Anyway, on to the real subject of this post; casting noted kyogen stage actor Mansai Nomura for the lead role was a genius move as far as I'm concerned, as his eccentric performance carries the story and, much like Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, makes one want to watch the sequel if for no other reason than to enjoy a broader scope of Nomura's skills in motion (Onmyoji II is arguably less fully realized than the first film, but I'm sure more is more as far as Nomura fans are concerned). No doubt foxy Nomura was in part considered for the role due to the legend that Abe no Seimei was born of a curious union between man and fox-wife, but it is the actor's honed movements, gracefully balletic yet arresting at times in their precision, that truly cast a spell and sell his performance as an unparalleled magic-maker. This evidence of his background in traditional theater arts showcased by way of fantasy entertainment brings to mind yet another comparison: get this guy in a Star Trek spacesuit and let's see if he can give Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard a run for the neutral zone. Though most of what makes Nomura's presence in this film memorable to me is sadly lost in the trailer for Onmyoji, I feel I should post it below nonetheless as there are other people in this movie (I guess).
Here's a bonus look at Mansai Nomura as he appeared (with actress Kayoko Shiraishi) in a stage play he directed called Kuninusubito, an adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III. It looks like it was probably an absolutely amazing production!