6.6/10
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The Tale of Genji (1987)

Murasaki Shikibu: Genji monogatari (original title)
| Animation, Drama, Romance
An animated film based on the novel by Murasaki Shikibu, written over 1000 years ago. Genji, the son of the emperor, is the talk of the Kyoto nobility for his charm and good looks, yet he ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview:
Morio Kazama ...
Hikaru Genji (voice)
Miwako Kaji ...
(voice)
Reiko Tajima ...
(voice)
Jun Fubuki ...
(voice)
Midori Hagio ...
Yuugao (voice)
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An animated film based on the novel by Murasaki Shikibu, written over 1000 years ago. Genji, the son of the emperor, is the talk of the Kyoto nobility for his charm and good looks, yet he cannot stop himself from pursuing an unobtainable object of desire: his father's young and beautiful bride. Following the tragic consequences of his obsession, Genji wanders from one affair to another, always seeking some sort of completion to his life. Written by Jean-Marc Rocher <rocher@fiberbit.net>

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Faithful Adaption of a Difficult Work
19 October 2002 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

I'd looked forward to seeing this film ever since I heard it was coming to Sydney as part of a Japanese animation festival. I'm not particularly interested in animation these days, more so in literature and Japanese cultural history, so I treaded along to only this film, Spirited Away being sold out shortly after tickets went on sale.

The Tale of Genji is, at the least, a difficult work to read. Even translated into our modern English, some passages of the work remain utterly disconnected from our conceptions of society making the world that Murasaki Shikibu lived in unreal, a "floating world", to use a worn cliche. The original work today is incomprehensible to most Japanese people - there are entire university courses focussed solely on interpreting this work.

And I fear, for most viewers unfamiliar with the work, it will be incomprehensible. The narrative is disjointed, giving little to no background on the characters in the film, leaving many members of the audience dozing in their seats (this was one of the films towards the end of the festival, quite late at night). I acted almost like an audio commentator for my brother throughout the film, whispering things like "That lover's the third wife of his father" or "The Emperor who ascends after Genji's father is the son of the former Emperor's second (?) wife, who was always resentful of Genji's mother, because the former Emperor preferred Genji's mother over her, which is why she hates Genji."

But even so, if you have a basic understanding of the work, it can make the film an enjoyable experience. In a way, the animation brings to life the world of the Heian period more effectively than live-action would, as it's so disjointed from our modern world and even our conceptions of the medieval world. And it's beautifully done. Genji is beautiful, as are the women he seduces. The settings are beautiful, with quite detailed animation, such as Genji revolving in a traditional dance during the opening credits.

I don't like what the director did with the cherry blossoms though. That was a subplot that wasn't part of the original tale at all, and I can't see why it was necessary, if perhaps to give some resemblance of a natural narrative in it. However, I loved seeing the exchanges between Genji and his partners, because that's the essence of the book, really. There were even a couple of poems kept, which is quite a few. It really brought the book alive for me.

I would say the film runs through the first quarter to third of the book, one of the more interesting times. I think the best part of the book though is the end of it, when the focus shifts away from Genji to a beautifully detailed love triangle - the first in prose history if I believe. Does anyone know of any movie adaptations of this later part, the so-called 'Uji chapters'?

I don't know why it's rated as high as it is though. There's just a couple of flashes of breasts, just open robes and so on, nothing strong at all.


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