×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer

Predicting an eclipse can be a dangerous business in "Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer," a 17th-century costumer about the man who rectified Japan's 800-year-old calendar.

With:
With: Junichi Okada, Aoi Miyazaki, Kiichi Nakai, Ryuta Sato, Ennosuke Ichikawa, Yu Yokoyama, Koshiro Matsumoto, Akira Shirai, Hiroyuki Sanada.

Predicting an eclipse can be a dangerous business in “Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer,” a 17th-century costumer about the man who rectified Japan’s 800-year-old calendar. But don’t expect frisky action with swords or telescopes from “Departures” helmer Yojiro Takita’s plodding 141-minute biopic, which spends what seems like millennia dawdling on its protag’s countless trials and errors before reaching a foreseeable climax. The romantic pairing of screen sweetheart Aoi Miyazaki with band boy Junichi Okada could boost theatrical play in Asian markets, but beyond that, only science geeks are likely to be curious.

The film’s source is sci-fi writer Tow Ubukata’s novel “Tenchi meisatsu,” which chronicles the achievements of Japan’s first government-appointed astronomer, Santetsu Yasui (aka Shunkai Shibukawa). Born of the Aizu clan in Niigata, Yasui (Okada) is a professional Go player, though his personal hobbies are stargazing and solving mathematical puzzles.

Yasui’s inquisitiveness so impresses clan lord Masayuki Hoshina (Koshiro Matsumoto) that he is granted samurai status and sent on a cross-country expedition to observe the trajectory of the North Star. This results in a staggeringly long episode in which Yasui maps the stars’ positions, with nothing except nicely shot landscapes to break the visual and narrative monotony of the journey.

Yasui’s travels alert him to inaccuracies in the Chinese-derived Senmyo calendar, which has been in use for more than eight centuries. Upon his return, he embarks on research to design the Yamato calendar, attuned to Japan’s own seasonal conditions. He is fiercely opposed by the Emperors’ courtiers, who fear reform would threaten their mandate, but staunchly backed by the Shogun’s enlightened uncle Mitsukuni (Kiichi Nakai). The ensuing power struggles between throne and state are played out in stuffy palace settings, devoid of dramatic brio.

Even when the astronomer’s weather forecasts take on life-or-death stakes, the eventual payoff feels inadequate, especially after so much screen time has been expended on years of Yasui conducting tests. Had the pic conveyed the historical background in more cinematic terms, rather than through Hiroyuki Sanada’s dry narration, Yasui’s scientific breakthroughs would have had stronger impact.

In the same vein as Yoji Yamada’s “Twilight Samurai” series and Yoshimitsu Morita’s “Abacus and Sword,” “Tenchi” attempts to portray low-ranking samurai in a humanistic, down-to-earth light, in order to help contempo auds identify with their period milieu. With as many as 10 fact-based characters, each of whom has a hand in Yasui’s quest, there’s enough material here for a rich narrative tapestry. But few of the relationships have emotional heft.

Okada (from boy band V6) doesn’t bring many personal touches to the popular Japanese role of the geeky hero who never gives up, and comes off as just blandly likable. As his patient lover En, Miyazaki doesn’t veer far from her image in TV historical dramas such as “Princess Atsu.” Only Nakai cuts an imposing figure, combining political acumen with moral fiber.

Tech credits are well appointed, with a quality studio-set look complemented by ruggedly beautiful location shots in Fukushima. Joe Hisaishi’s sweeping, orchestral score makes the film feel weightier than it deserves. The title translates as “Clear Observation of Heaven and Earth.”

Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer

Japan

Production: A Shochiku Co., Kadokawa Pictures release of a "Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer" Film Partners presentation of a Shochiku Co., Kadokawa Pictures production. (International sales: Shochiku Co, Tokyo.) Produced by Fumio Inoue, Nozomu Enoki, Arimasa Okada. Executive producer, Shinichiro Inoue. Directed by Yojiro Takita. Screenplay, Masato Kato, Takita, based on the novel by Tow Ubukata.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Takeshi Hamada; editor, Soichi Ueno; music, Joe Hisaishi; production designer, Kyoko Heya; sound (Dolby Digital), Osamu Onodera; visual effects supervisor, Yasushi Hasegawa; astronomy consultants, Satoshi Soma, Yoshio Tomita. Reviewed at Tiffcom, Yokohama, Japan, Oct. 24, 2012. Running time: 141 MIN.

With: With: Junichi Okada, Aoi Miyazaki, Kiichi Nakai, Ryuta Sato, Ennosuke Ichikawa, Yu Yokoyama, Koshiro Matsumoto, Akira Shirai, Hiroyuki Sanada.

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content