Great Yokai War, The (Miike Collection)
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A young boy becomes an unlikely hero when he is chosen as the Kirin Rider and must lead Japans ancient Yokai spirits in their apocalyptic war against the evil monsters. A lavish remake of the 1968 film Yokai Daisenso" from acclaimed director Takashi Miike Ichi The Killer, Audition.
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Tadashi Ino is an introspective kid living with his mother at his grandpa's house after his parents divorce. When he is bitten by a puppet dragon (a kirin) at a festival, he is told by the local kids that he is now the Kirin Rider. Takashi takes the duty seriously as it becomes more evident throughout the film that this folklore is true. Soon enough this kid (who's a very good actor, by the way) is up to his chin in monsters and adventure! He teams up with a motley crew of spooks and weirdos (including the rock star of yokai, the KAPPA), gets an awesome sword, fights robots, and saves Tokyo from the forces of evil.
One of the greatest things about the film is the inventiveness of the yokai costumes themselves. All kinds of masks, suits, makeup, puppets, prosthetics, and digital effects are used to create an epic rouges gallery of monsters. Miike always works with great physical effects artists and designers. Also, Miike taps his large pool of veteran actors like Kenichi Endo and Renji Ishibashi to play some of the yokai. He creates a sort of yokai theater that both children and adults can get lost in. There are a few small scenes that might be a little on the scary side for very small kids, but overall this is a very colorful and light-hearted fantasy film. I'm glad this genre is making a comeback (MIRRORMASK comes to mind), and I'm happy to see that Takashi Miike dove right in there and gave us this gem.
Takashi Miike's "The Great Yokai War" ("Yokai Daisenso") is the latest flick to gather all the yokai together, sending all the kids of Japan running for their copies of Shigeru Mizuki's yokai encyclopedias to see if they can name that obscure creature that popped on the screen for a few seconds. While Miike is best known in the US for his controversial hard horror films like "Audition" and "Visitor Q", this is not his first jaunt into light-hearted kid's films, having previously made the superhero film "Zebraman." "The Great Yokai War" is a remake of a 1968 film of the same name, that was released as "Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare" in the US.
All in all, it is lots of fun. The story is pretty typical of children's fantasy, with the young boy Tadashi Ino being a nobody at school, the target for bullies and abuse. Tadashi is one day chosen at a local festival to be the Kirin Rider, for which he receives a small flag and a special lunch. Although Tadashi doesn't think this actually means anything, he finds himself drawn in a yokai war, acting as the chosen human champion to help fight the evil Kato, who is merging yokai spirits into machine technology in order to create an army to take over the world. Tadashi gets some help along the way, with his fighting companions being a kappa, the red-faced Kirin Herald, and the childlike but seductive River Princess. Of course he has a magic sword.
The yokai are the real stars, and Miike has used modern special effects to create them in a realistic but amusing fashion. Some of them are scary, some are ridiculous, but they are all actual creatures from Japanese folklore. It is pretty cool seeing them all on the screen and moving around, especially the bizarre Kasa Obake, a haunted umbrella with a long wagging tongue. Along with his digital monsters, Miike has pulled in some of Japan's great modern actors too, including the ubiquitous Takenaka Naoto ("Shall we dance?" "Waterboys") and Kuriyama Chiaki ("Battle Royale," "Kill Bill 1"). It is really great seeing veteran actor Sugawara Bunta ("Battles without honor or humanity") playing Tadashi's grandfather.
Lots of comparisons can be drawn between "The Great Yokai War" and other children's fantasy films like "Neverending Story," and the similarities are obvious. However, "Neverending Story" is a great flick, and what works there works here too. Tadashi is a believable child-hero, and the yokai are as charming and funny as any of Bastian's companions.
I knew nothing about Yokai before I saw this. Simply explained: imagine if many places, animals, and situations had a sprite or spirit attached to them - that's a Yokai. Although it does turn out I had some knowledge of them: the concept of kappas from "Kappa Mikey" and the character of Tengu from fighting him in the game "D.O.A. 2". Using them in a children's movie provides many instances for innovative and sometimes shocking creature makeups, using everything from CG to hand puppets. Make no mistake -everything in this is well done; this isn't "Godzilla vs Megalon". And that brings to mind the laugh I got from the Gamera joke near the end.
Now while some us might want to think we can just plop this movie down in front of our kids, it's not so easy. The machine demons (and often the yokai as well) could be scary to a child who wouldn't be ready fr it. And there are dark turns taken in the story, particularly in regards to the small furry Sukemosori.
And speaking of non-child fare, did anyone else notice the faint thread of sexuality running through this? You have the dangerously sexy Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo from "Kill Bill" - why has it taken her this long to be in a Miike film?), who's often provocatively dressed. Then you have the sensuous River Princess - there's some subplot involving her thighs. And the real head-scratcher involves the boy who plays Tadashi; a beautiful child. There's that scene that's intercut of all the yokai talking along with Tadashi putting on his armor. When he takes of his shirt and hikes up those shorts, it made me wonder what Miike was up to. Maybe this is just my perception; I don't want to make a judgement call...
Overall, if you're a Miike fan, don't hesitate to add this to your collection. It's a quirky (but enjoyable) little film that manages to take some dark turns toward the end: I was almost expecting Kato to rape the River Princess...
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