Review: ‘The Great Yokai War’

Japan's premiere goremeister, Takashi Miike, shows he can also appeal to kids, with environmentally friendly goblin adventure. Pic unabashedly steals from just about every fantasy flick ever made, but the lack of originality won't put off moppets and CGI nerds who want to collect the figurines. DVD sales will be the most marketable offshore outlet.

Japan’s premiere goremeister, Takashi Miike, shows he can also appeal to kids, with environmentally friendly goblin adventure “The Great Yokai War.” Pic unabashedly steals from just about every fantasy flick ever made, but the lack of originality won’t put off moppets and CGI nerds who want to collect the figurines that can’t be far behind. Odd blend of the truly cheesy with a few genuine f/x makes for a cutesy if not exactly thrilling spectacle. Local biz is holding at a respectable level without being blockbuster; DVD sales will be the most marketable offshore outlet.

Media giant Kadokawa Herald Pictures is promoting the pic as its 60th anniversary jewel, a $10 million liberal remake of a 1968 Yoshiyuki Kuroda film that turned into a trilogy. Miike obviously expects a similar outcome, judging from the open ending that screams “quick sequel.”

Yokai are folkloric creatures of mixed disposition who take all sorts of fantastic forms, but are only visible to a few. It’s become a trope in adventure pics for children from broken homes to have the most active fantasy lives, and 10-year-old Tadashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) is no exception. Recently moved by his mother Yoko (Kaho Minami) from Tokyo to a village in the south, the pair live with her father Shuntaro (Bunta Sugawara), who’s slowly descending into senile dementia.

Tadashi is a shy kid, but at a local festival he’s unexpectedly chosen as the Kirin Rider, a yearly ceremonial post that’s supposed to enable him to champion peace through the use of a sword guarded by the Great Goblin of Goblin Mountain. He doesn’t imagine he’ll need to test this out, but the evil Kato (Etsushi Toyokawa) is in the process of amassing the malevolent energy of millions of disgruntled dead, with the assistance of his lethal g.f.-wannabe Agi (Chiaki Kuriyama), a kick-ass disciple with a mean white beehive.

All these bad vibes are turning even the benevolent Yokai into evil spirits, part of Kato’s dastardly plot to bury humankind in darkness. Only the Kirin Rider can save the day, so traditional folklore characters such as the River Princess (Mai Takahashi) and the Azuki-Bean Washer (Takashi Okamura) recruit Tadashi into combating the forces of evil.

Miike brazenly incorporates elements from “The Lord of the Rings,” “Gremlins” (including the microwave scene), “The Wizard of Oz” and even “Gamera” in this potpourri of good vs. evil.

Some inventive CGI work, such as a creature whose neck takes on anaconda-like abilities, feels closer to helmer’s usual territory, which is why the cutesy elements, such as a rabbit-sized Yokai obviously made from a dime-store stuffed animal, appear so low-tech and silly. Side goblins are much more inventive, obviously inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s whimsically nightmarish creatures, although only the very young will be frightened by any of the situations.

Parents can be reassured by the pro-recycling message, plus they’ll take comfort in the repeated emphasis on children growing up healthy if they eat their azuki beans. The brazen Kirin beer product-placement will remind the same parents of what awaits once they put the little angels to bed.

Lensing and sound are standard if unremarkable, while sets rarely attain the kind of imaginative splendor that make superior fantasy films of this type so visually enjoyable.

The Great Yokai War

Japan

Production

A Kadokawa Pictures, Japan Film Fund, Nippon Television Network presentation of a Kadokawa Pictures production. (International sales: Horizon Entertainment, Vancouver, Canada.) Produced by Fumio Inoue. Executive producer, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa. Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay, Miike, Mitsuhiko Sawamura, Takehiko Itakura.

Crew

Camera (color), Hideo Yamamoto; editor, Yasushi Shimamura; music, Koji Endo; art director, Hisashi Sasaki, Nishio Tomomi; costume designer, Michiko Kitamura, Noburu Kawakami, You-ko, Keisuke Chiyoda; sound (Dolby Digital Surround Ex) Jun Nakamura; sound effects, Kenji Shibasaki; line producer, Nobuhiro Iizuka; CGI producer, Misako Saka; CGI director, Kaori Otagaki; special model design, Tomo Hyakutake; assistant director, Hideyuki Yamamoto; casting, Tsuyoshi Sugino. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 4, 2005. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Midnight Madness.), Running time: 123 MIN.

With

Ryunosuke Kamiki, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Chiaki Kuriyama, Bunta Sugawara, Etsushi Toyokawa, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Mai Takahashi, Masaomi Kondo, Sadawo Abe, Takashi Okamura, Naoto Takenaka, Kaho Minami, Akira Enomoto.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading