September 16, 2005



Takashi Miike had lost it as far as I was concerned. GOZU was full of chewy morsels but we've already got David Lynch for that kind of thing. ZEBRAMAN is a movie I wanted to like so badly that my ears bled, but at the end of the movie I checked myself and, nope, not amazed. But THE GREAT YOKAI WAR joins HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, ICHI THE KILLER and AUDITION as the Miike movies I'll alwasy love, no matter what he does next. After stumbling out of the Midnight Madness screening last night I wanted to fly over to Japan and give him a hug. But first I wanted to enjoy a frosty can of Kirin Ichiban beer which is marketed relentlessly throughout the movie.

Family film that it is, GYW kicks off with Takashi (kid kommando thespian, Ryunosuke Kamiki) having a nightmare about an incinerated Tokyo. Then a slinky demoness with a beehive comes dangerously close to some peeky cheeky action out the back of her mini skirt, followed by the birth of a goo-covered, flayed, talking cow fetus and a promise of the apocalypse. The fact that children in Japan can sleep at all is something of a miracle.

Takashi gets elected the Kirin Rider in a dumpy village where one half of his broken home is hiding out, trying to get over the trauma of his parents' divorce. Each year there's a little village celebration and some kid gets selected as Kirin Rider (I assume "Kirin" either means "dragon" or "giant corporate logo" in Japanese) and it mostly means the rugrat gets some nasty-looking azuki beans to eat and a hand towel. In Takashi's case it means he has to go to Goblin Mountain, get the Goblin Sword and stop evil, fascist wizard, Kato, from starting a war. Oops, too late. War's already broken out.

Blah, blah. Been here. Done that. Bought the t-shirt. But GYW attacks its material with all the stops pulled out, and its war, for all its CGI and ridiculous declarations, is something you can feel in your guts. The evil wizard Kato is a part-therapist/part-madman who's declared war on humanity in the name of...garbage. All the things we've thrown out, all the broken junk we've dumped, all the shoes we toss when they get too small or go out of style, all of it has souls. Unwittingly we've perpetrated a holocaust, and now Kato is holding us accountable. It's a little bit like that Ikea commercial about the lamp thrown out in the rain, only minus the joke. You have to admit it: the evil wizard has a point.

The yokai are goblins out of folktalesThe yokai are goblins out of folktales and in an age of Digimon and Dragonball; what's more neglected than a bunch of crummy old folkstory characters? Kato captures the mostly harmless  funky-looking yokai and unleashes all their rage at humanity that they've kept bottled up inside and it come volcanoing out, ripping the creaky old yokai apart and turning the pieces into vicious mechanical monsters.

By the end of the flick a homicidal city has been unleashed, Takachi has had to slaughter his cuddly best friend, adults have demonstrated they are morally bankrupt, and the yokai have gone to war. Seeded throughout this mix-o-matic madness are jokes, sudden breaks to celebrate the azuki bean in song and to warn kids not to try particularly dangerous stunts at home, some of the darkest black humor to cast a shade across the screen (an elderly village cop tries to shoot one of the mechanical monsters and instead plugs its helpless human victim right between the eyes), and the funniest product placement for Kirin Ichiban beer I've ever seen. If Miike doesn't deserve an Oscar for this one he at least deserves an Addy (the Oscar of the advertising industry).

When GYW was first announced it was claimed that it would be Japan's answer to LORD OF THE RINGS and the Harry Potter movies - not quite. The movie is too weird, too Miike, to capture the imaginations of millions. But he delivers a short, sharp shock to the system in the final scene that perfectly captures the elegiac sadness that Peter Jackson tried to reach at the conclusion of LOTR but failed to pull off. Every quest has an ending and no childhood lasts forever; Miike lets his movie extend beyond its climax and it's one of the saddest things I've ever seen. Amidst the imagination of mass destruction at the heart of this movie that sweeps up the film into a burning fusion of ridiculous ideas, be very still and quiet. That sound you hear is a child's heart breaking.

September 16, 2005 at 10:23 AM in Reviews | Permalink


The Variety review for GREAT YOKAI WAR is up here:


But I have to take issue with the reviewer's claim that the movie's yokai are "...obviously inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's whimsically nightmarish creatures..."

Um, I think they're actually inspired by the Japanese prints of yokai that were popular during the Edo period. Or maybe they were inspired by one-armed cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki who was an advisor on the film. Or maybe they were inspired by the original Daiei yokai movies from the 1960's. But I'll guarantee that they have nothing to do with Hieronymus Bosch's paintings.

I also have to disagree with this sentence claiming that "...only the very young will be frightened by any of the situations."

If flayed half-cow, half-human, goo-beslimed fetuses that drip black blood from their eyeballs don't freak you out then your childhood was a lot rougher than mine.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Sep 17, 2005 4:01:43 PM

Nice Review. the regret (later in life) of lost innocence and childhood does really ring true in this film. (And it is the better for it). My only complaint with GYW was that it's middle chase/action sequences went on about 15 minutes too long.

And also, you didnt' mention how Miike does the best humization of an inanimate object since Zemekis' Volleyball, Wilson. The cute and cuddly kitten Yokai that Takachi befriends, is obviously a sock-puppet, and Takachi wears it oddly like a hat for much of the film. Yet nevertheless it is a full character with personality...

Posted by: Kurt | Sep 19, 2005 5:49:04 PM

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