EDITOR’S NOTE: We may have covered these films before, but this is truly a set that I’ve been asking about for years. I’m beyond overjoyed that this is coming out and even more excited that Arrow is the company putting it out.
Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters (1968)
Daiei could produce a masterpiece like Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon while still putting out movies that featured Gamera, Zatoichi, Daimajin and the Yokai Monsters, who are based on the monsters of Japanese folklore. They may be evil creatures who cause great misfortune and harm or — quite the opposite — could also be beings that bring good fortune to those who meet them.
Much like the aforementioned films like Gamera and Daimajin, this is a tokusatsu film that uses practical effects, including actors in costumes, puppets and animation to tell the story.
That story is really about a rich landowner, who wants to tear down a local shrine to build a brothel. He cheaps out and after telling the stories of the yokai, neglects to pay for the ceremony to keep them out. They soon go wild in the town, partying down as they arrive with sake.
Known in Japan as Yokai Hyaku Monogatari, this was directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, who made six of the Zatoichi movies. It suffers the sin of some Godzilla movies, in that we don’t really care about the humans. We just want the monsters. And we’ve been promised a hundred of them!
The following film, Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare, came out the same year and realizes this issue and instead fills nearly every moment of the movie with monster after monster. This is good. That movie is great.
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)
1968 saw the release of Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters, but just seven months later, director Kuroda Yoshiyuki (Daimajin, several Zatoichi films) made this sequel, which takes the main ideas of presenting Japan’s native monsters, perhaps finds some inspiration from the manga GeGeGe no Kitaro and the story of Momotaro, take a strong shot of national Japanese pride and remembers that no one cares about the humans in the story. We’re here to see monsters. And oh man, are we gonna get them!
In the Babylonian city of Ur, the body of the great monster Daimon lies amongst the ruins. That is, until some treasure hunters rouse him from his dark sleep, which leads to him flying to Japan, vampirically taking over the body of samurai Lord Hyogo Isobe.
As Isobe, Daimon goes wild, burning all the religious altars, killing the family dog and even rousing a kappa — a “river child” turtle creature who loves to wrestle — from his slumber in the river. Hurt in combat with the much stronger Daimon, the kappa begins his quest to unite the yokai and stop the foul beast.
Soon, the kappa meets Kasa-obake (a one-legged umbrella with eyes), Futakuchi-onna (a two-mouthed cursed woman), Rokurokubi (a long-necked woman who often appears in the more adult kaiden stories), Nuppeppo (a clay creature who resembles a blob of meat) and Abura-sumashi (a wise ghost of a human who once stole oil). They tell him that according to coloring books and field guides, no such yokai exists.
Meanwhile, Daimon has stopped his attempted exorcism and responded by killing the parents of several children. As his men hunt for the surviving kids, they hide in the yokai shrine. Soon, the monsters realize the kappa was telling the truth and join him in battle, which ends up involving nearly every single monster from across Japan.
Takashi Miike remade this movie in 2005 as The Great Yokai War, which also features Kitaro creator Mizuki in a cameo.
Seriously, this movie took a bad day and made anything seem possible. This is pure joy on film.
Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts (1969)
The third and final Yokai Monsters movie, this time directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda and Kimiyoshi Yasuda, takes us back to feudal Japan, where Miyo has discovered evidence that could stop the corruption in her town, but when her grandfather is murdered on sacred grounds, she needs the help of the Yokai.
Unlike the second movie — which is everything you want, as it is literally packed with monsters — this is more of a horror film, using the yokai in a more frightening way as they move into becoming the guardians of youth, which seems to be the fate of nearly every Japanese monster once the sequels start adding up.
It’s nice to see all of the monsters when they do show, but after the delirious Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare, this felt like a step backward. Not a bad step, but still not in the direction I wanted.
The Great Yokai War (2005)
If someone is going to make a new Yokai movie, it really should be Takeshi Miike, who draws inspiration from Aramata Hiroshi’s Teito Monogatari, the Spook Warfare movie and Mizuki Shigeru’s GeGeGe no Kitaro manga. All three — and this movie — are just different takes on the legend of Momotaro driving the demons away from Kikaigashima.
Where this adaption changes the game is that it’s not about Japan against outside forces, but really about the old ways versus the modern world, as the enemy demons are all mechanical robotic beasts that feel like they’d be right at home in the Luigi Cozzi movie.
It tells the tale of Tadashi Ino, a young boy who moves to a small town after his parents’ divorce. At the festival of his village, he is picked as that year’s Kirin Rider, but beyond that being just a ceremonial title, he ends up really being the protector of all things good and must defend the town against Yasunori Kato, who demands revenge for how modern Japan has disrespected the yokai. To gain that vengeance, he transforms them in a magical forge into kikai that takes a page out of Dr. Robotnik and transforms friendly yokai into enemies.
Sadly, for all the adventures in this film, when you grow up, you lose the ability to see yokai.
Despite the move toward CGI in this, its still a charming film. Of course, it’s also a Miike movie, so it can have cute and cuddly creature in one scene and a fetal demon being born in blood the next, so prepare yourself.
The only thing this set is missing is the sequel to this film, which just came out in Japan, The Great Yokai War: Guardians. As if this movie didn’t have enough creatures in it, Daimajin appears (check out that Arrow box set too)!
Arrow’s limited edition box set include high definition blu rays of all four movies, as well as an illustrated 60-page collectors’ book featuring new writing on the series by Stuart Galbraith IV, Raffael Coronelli and Jolyon Yates; reversible sleeves, postcards and a yokai guide illustrated by Yates.
There are also trailers, a documentary to get Western audiences up to speed on yokai, new audio commentary by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes for The Great Yokai War as well as archive interviews with the cast and crew including Takashi Miike. There are also two shorts about the yokai from that film and two more stories about the kappa Kawataro, two shorts featuring the continuing story of the kappa character in the film.
All four films are also available on the ARROW player. Head over to ARROW to start your 30 day free trial (subscriptions are available for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly). ARROW is available in the US, Canada and the UK on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices , Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com.