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Genghis Khan:
To the Ends of the Earth and Sea
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    

Takashi Sorimachi is Genghis Khan.
  Japanese: 蒼き狼 地果て海尽きるまで
Year: 2007  
Director: Shinichiro Sawai  
  Writer: Takehiro Nakajima, Shoichi Maruyama, Seiichi Morimura (original novel)
  Cast: Takashi Sorimachi, Rei Kikukawa, Mayumi Wakamura, Kenichi Matsuyama, Yusuke Hirayama, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Eugene Nomura, Ara, Hiroki Matsukata.
  The Skinny: An entertaining big-budget epic better suited for screens 40 years ago, this version of the Genghis Khan story feels incomplete and not memorable enough to stand the test of time.
Kevin Ma:

The title of this Japan-made retelling of Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan's story is To the Ends of the Earth and Sea, and it's actually a rather misleading one. The film chronicles only his rise from Temujin the clan leader into ruler Genghis Khan, ending before his conquest started and without ever showing any body of water. If the existing biographies are correct (and there are very few ways of knowing), Genghis Khan's life was indeed a very rich one and probably deserves two 136-minute movies instead of just one. However, producer Haruki Kadokawa and ex-Kadokawa Films director Shinichiro Sawai could only afford to make one 136-minute film, ending the film just before Genghis's world conquest began in hopes that the US$30 million production would earn enough to justify a sequel. However, the film was a commercial failure in Japan despite being sold to 60 territories around the world. While Genghis Khan does have its share of problems, it's nostalgic old-school filmmaking that may actually still thrill some people. It was just made in the wrong era.

Takashi Sorimachi (GTO, Fulltime Killer) leads a mostly Japanese cast as the adult-aged Temujin/Genghis Khan, the son of a tribal leader who is forced to live in poverty with his family when his father dies and the tribe abandons them to fend for themselves. Born in the period when Mongolia was comprised of warring tribes, the film's central plot involves Temujin's dream, shared with best friend Jamuqa (Yusuke Hirayama), to unite the Mongols into one nation and end the bloodshed. However, like the Highlander, there can be only one Khan, and we already know how that story will turn out. Luckily, we have other plots to follow along the way including Temujin's obsession with his birth origins, his strained relationship with his son (Kenichi Matsuyama from the Death Note films), who may not be his biological offspring, and his relationships with the women around him. Oh, and he conquers a couple of tribes too.

Shot entirely in Mongolia, Genghis Khan evokes the days of the old Kadokawa blockbusters with its beautiful cinematography, classical dialogue (all the actors speak like they're in a movie about samurais), and spectacular overacting. Sorimachi does his best to imitate a macho seventies actor, over-delivering his dialogue in the gruffest way possible to give off the vibe of a great warrior. Sorimachi succeeds, possessing great screen presence as the big honcho. In fact, Genghis Khan plays like a sixties commercial film straight from beginning to end; things are made to look as real as possible, which makes the insertion of some obvious cgi shots even more obvious. Furthermore, not everyone will buy the exaggerated actions of every character, including some of the most awkward hugs between a man and a woman in the history of Japanese cinema. If you haven't been through sex education, you might get from this movie the idea that babies come from a man "embracing another as a woman".

Old-fashioned melodrama aside, Kadokawa spared no expense for the film, employing real-life Mongolian soldiers for the battle scenes. However, the bloodless battles are staged with little excitement and usually involve lots of people running into each other with deadly weapons. That would be acceptable if Sawai wanted to show that war is not meant to excite, but composer Iwashiro Taro's score actually suggests that Temujin's various murderous conquests are glorious and honorable. However, it's hard to get excited again and again about charging soldiers running across a green field, kicking up lots of cgi dust.

Despite Sawai's ability to move things along at a brisk pace, Genghis Khan lacks the memorable scenes that a successful blockbuster needs. Instead, the film moves along quickly in order to cover as much territory as possible. For instance, the introduction of Temujin's second wife/warrior Kulan (played by underacting Korean newcomer Ara) happens so quickly that Temujin comes off as nave, as he immediately believes that someone who just tried to assassinate him can be a loyal fighter. The film is filled with similar such scenes; Temujin becomes blood brothers with Jamuqa after a quick arrow competition, and he even gets a small clan to join him because he wants to return a favor. Things work quickly in Sawai and Kadokawa's world, and the line between efficient storytelling and lazy exposition is often blurred.

Nevertheless, Genghis Khan is an entertaining spectacle. Every dollar spent is captured by the camera, and the film would probably only look better on the big screen. While the film's flaws can be painfully obvious, and it doesn't even corroborate with known history, the film is a likable old-fashioned epic that never meant to work with a hip 2007 audience. Calling the film "good" may border on overrating it, but it's a worthwhile retro trip back to a time when real people were used for battle scenes, directors actually shot movies at attractive locations rather than in the front of a green screen, and dense biopics moved way too fast. It's just a shame that they ended the film where they did. While the first half of Genghis Khan's life can be considered more dramatically intriguing and politically correct (some nations' histories still see Genghis Khan's rule as brutal and oppressive.), I would've really liked to see what Sawai and co. would do with Khan's journey around the world. At least then the film would've lived up to the its title. (Kevin Ma, 2007)

Notes: • The film is a co-production between Japan and Mongolia to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the country's establishment.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and Chinese language tracks
Dolby Digital Stereo
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Trailer, Production notes
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen