Every once in a while, I get surprised by a film. And Japanese period occult films are no exception. The original Onmyogi, was a delectable piece of fantasy, pitting Abe No Seimei (Mansai Nomura) and his new friend Hiromasa (Hideaki Ito) against a genuine villain in what is essentially a power struggle for the future of Heian Japan. It was brilliant in its way, but also indulged in a lot of high camp in its effects. In other words, a classy horror film, but not a dramatic tour de force.
Onmyogi two stars the same two leads, but the story is and order of magnitude stronger than it's predecessor. This time Heian Kyo is threatened by a demonic series of killings and the emperor turns to Seimei for help. The wizard finds himself enmeshed in the killings and the mystery of Himiko (Kyoko Fukada), a young princess given to tomboyish antics and sleepwalking. Hiromasa, in the meantime, encounters a young musician (Susa) who remembers tunes from the forgotten village of Izumo.
Naturally all these threads come together, Hiromasa falls in love, Seimei finds his opponent is the human thread that ties Himiko and Susa together - Genkaku (Kiichi Nakai), the head of Izumo village. Genkaku has been driven mad after seeing the present regimes troops destroy his village. He schemes to destroy the Yamato capital and recreate the kingdom as a Izumo holding. He intyends to reincarnate the god Susa-No-O in his son's body, even though this means the destruction of Susa and Himeko.
Thus the film turns not on the horror (and there is plenty), but on the painful workings of fate that pit brother against sister. No one in this film is really evil, but each marches to interior motivations in a tragic landscape.
As before, the cinematography is excellent. The film is a classic period piece, complete with detailed costumes, accurate settings, and a good eye for Heian society. Much of what you see is based on real legend and history, right down to the sword that plays an important part in the buildup to the climax. All of the actors are at their best, but Mansai Nomura deserves extra honors for his dancework, which is mostly improvisation, but looks and feels as if it were native to the times.
If you were to only watch one of these films I would suggest you look for this one. But it would be a sin to miss either. It's not often you get a horror film, a gothic romance, and a vision of what courtly life was in medieval Japan all wrapped up in one film. Recommended.