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Film / Genji monogatari

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Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) is a 1951 film from Japan directed by Kozaburo Yoshimura.

It is an adaptation of The Tale of Genji, the 11th-century novel that is often called the oldest ever novel and is a foundation stone of Japanese literature. Kiritsubo, a concubine of the emperor, is pregnant. But she is just a commoner, and Kokoiden, the emperor's oldest, more high-born concubine (Chieko Higashiyama, who played the grandma in Tokyo Story) is intensely jealous of the beautiful younger woman. Kokoiden is even more jealous when she finds out that Kiritsubo is pregnant. She has the younger woman exiled.

Kiritsubo gives birth to a boy, Hikaru Genji ("Hikaru the Radiant"). Although barred from succession to the throne due to his mother's low birth, Genji is still treated as a prince of the royal house. He grows into a dashingly young handsome man who makes all the ladies-in-waiting excited whenever he passes by. He falls in love with one Fujitsubo, concubine to the emperor, and rapes and impregnates her. But she is pledged to the emperor, so he has to give her up.

Genji marries Lady Aoi, but continues to cat around with other women, much to her displeasure. He more or less kidnaps a teenaged girl, Murasaki, and brings her into his household. Eventually he is forced into exile where he has still more affairs before finally learning some lessons.

Machiko Kyo appears in the last third of the film as Lady Awaji, Genji's last conquest.


  • Adaptation Distillation: The novel is way too long to be adapted into a single film. This movie concentrates on the early part of the story, with Genji a young man growing into maturity.
  • Anti-Hero: Genji unambiguously rapes Fujitsubo, but it is portrayed as a sort of uncontrolled passion. He kidnaps Murasaki, who apparently is underage—he speaks of adopting her but Aoi is not fooled. He cheats on both his wives, and he gets petulant when either Aoi or Murasaki complain about this.
  • As You Know: Aoi asks her servant what time is it, the servant answers "it is the hour of the hare", and Aoi helpfully clarifies "seven o'clock".
  • Death by Childbirth: It's actually somewhat ambiguous if it's this trope, or Death by Despair due to his constant cheating, or both. But in any event, Lady Aoi dies from vague causes right after delivering Genji's son.
  • Death by Despair: Seemingly plagued by guilt over everything that happened with Genji, And despair over not being with him, Fujitsubo also dies of vague causes.
  • Dramatic Drop
    • Fujitsubo drops her fan as Genji carries her into an interior room to rape her.
    • Genji drops his katana at the end of the film, as Murasaki talks him out of murdering Yoshinari.
  • Dramatic Thunder: A lot of loud, dramatic thunder scores the scene where Genji, who is in full DGAF mode, laughs at Kokoiden and the chamberlain after they catch him in the bedchamber of a lady-in-waiting.
  • The Faceless: In his single scene, the new emperor, Genji's younger brother, holds an audience. He is filmed only from behind.
  • The Ghost: The old emperor, Genji's father, is never shown at all. He is however frequently discussed, as in the opening scene where he has summoned Kiritsubo to him, much to Kokoiden's displeasure.
  • Hand Gag: Genji does this as he's dragging Fujitsubo away to rape her.
  • Hemo Erotic: After Genji is slashed on the upper arm by the sword of a would-be assassin, Awaji makes a show of sucking the blood. Sex follows.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: At the end of the film Awaji confesses to Genji that he isn't the father of her baby, Yoshinari is. Genji flies into a rage, beats Yoshinari, and is about to kill him when Murasaki grabs him and reminds him of what he did in impregnating Fujitsubo when she was married to another man. After this he relents and allows Awaji and Yoshinari to leave his household.
  • I Regret Nothing: Even as she's dying of despair some 6-8 years or so after being booted out of the imperial court, Kiritsubo says words to this effect.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe
    • A pissed-off Aoi tells her husband that there are rumors about who is really the father of Fujitsubo's baby. Sure enough, when the baby is shown to Genji the lady-in-waiting points out how much it looks like him.
    • Genji gets a little dose of karma at the end when he's on the other end of this, as Awaji tells him that he's not the father of her child.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: After the opening scene with a pregnant Kiritsubo running afoul of Kokoiden, there's a scene with Genji aged 8 years old or so, at his mother's deathbed. Then the next scene cuts to a grown Genji visiting his mother's grave.
  • Mr. Fanservice: All the women of the court can't stop rhapsodizing about how handsome Genji is and how they'd love to spend time with them.
  • Royal "We": The emperor, Genji's little brother, talks this way. It comes in a scene where he says "We feel very much alone" after inviting Genji back to the court.
  • Taking the Veil: Genji is very upset when he hears that Fujitsubo has given up her status as the emperor's concubine in order to become a nun.
  • Time Skip: Six years or so between Genji's birth and his mother's death, and then maybe twenty years more before adult Genji appears.
  • Top Wife: Kokoiden, senior concubine, who is extremely protective of her status. She hates Kiritsubo because she knows the emperor likes her better.
  • Voiceover Letter: One scene has dueling, sung voiceover letters, as Genji and Murasaki write love letters to each other.
  • Wife Husbandry: Genji meets the lovely Murasaki, who is living in the care of an old lady nun. He immediately kidnaps her, claiming that he will adopt her. Aoi is not fooled however, saying that he really wants Murasaki to be her replacement. Sure enough, he marries Murasaki after Aoi dies.