Directed by Takashi Miike
Distributed by Media Blasters
Not to knock the genius of Takashi Miike, but lately it seems as though he’s been channeling other famous directors. With Gozu it was David Lynch, with One Missed Call it was Hideo Nakata, and with Izo (!) it was Alejandro Jodorowsky. With the release of the big-budget children’s film The Great Yokai War (a remake of the 1968 classic Yokai Monsters), Miike recalls Hayao Miyazaki, the fantasy mastermind behind Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
Many people seem shocked that the world’s most dangerous filmmaker would be crafting children’s fantasy, but this is really nothing new. Miike has been impossible to categorize, having covered more styles and genres than any other filmmaker in history, and this – his 66th (!!) film – is simply another notch on his belt. Don’t let this be a deterrent: Yokai may be fun for all ages, but it still carries Miike’s twisted stamp and packs enough unrelenting madness and unpredictability to surprise even the most jaded fan.
The film brings together various monsters through Japanese mythology as they unite against an evil warlord hellbent on turning the world’s yokai into twisted robotic monstrosities. The only thing that can save them is a legendary hero known as the Kirin Rider. Unfortunately, only children can see the yokai, so 11-year-old Tadashi is recruited from his village to lead the charge. From there Yokai takes on the Alice in Wonderland syndrome as Tadashi stumbles through a series of bizarro set-pieces and is forced outwit several otherworldly foes.
It’s the classic case of technology vs. imagination, industry vs. environment, and age vs. youth, which is pretty ironic considering the film itself is a mixture of new and old techniques. There’s a heavy emphasis on CGI, but it’s not distracting and works well with the prosethetic creatures. The monsters themselves (of which there are hundreds) are a strange eclectic bunch, and they feel right at home with Miike’s “kitchen sink” approach. Long-necked ghosts, talking umbrellas and kid-chomping motorcycles are just a few of the oddities in the freak show, and half the fun is wondering what will stumble from the shadows next.
Humans are always the token characters, so it’s refreshing to see engaging actors thrown into the mix as well. Ryuunosuke Kamiki is a very strong lead and completely convincing as Yokai’s young hero (even when he’s kicking ass with a broad-sword), while yakuza film icon Bunta Sugawara gets the most laughs as his crazed senile grandfather. But the best performance comes from the ever sexy Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale, Kill Bill) as the sadistic white-haired villainess. Not only is she delightfully cruel, she manages to add a few extra layers to her role.
On the supplemental side of things there are two versions. Unfortunately we were only able to get our hands on a single disc edition which is pretty bare. A full review of the double disc edition will grace this site sometime in the near future.
Yet, for a children’s fantasy film, The Great Yokai War lacks that child-like wonder that propels similar works to greatness. It’s fairly hollow entertainment, strung together by twisted gags and hyperactive imagery, and while there isn’t a dull moment to be found, there’s a sense that Miike was striving to achieve something more. Nonetheless, the end product packs enough punch to please both children and Miike fans alike. That in itself is a great achievment.
Yokai Character Profiles
3 1/2 out of 5
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