Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 21, 2006

The Great Yokai War

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

Takashi Miike is not only one of Japan’s most interesting film directors; he is also one of the most prolific. Since 1991 he has directed more than 60 films for theater and television. Like South Korea’s Kim Jee-Woon, Miike works in just about every genre imaginable. In fact, Miike demonstrated a real affinity for the Korean director by remaking “The Quiet Family,” a black comedy about a suicide epidemic at a bed-and-breakfast, as “The Happiness of the Katakuris.” He has also directed “Dead or Alive,” a gangster film that shares the baroque excess of Kim Jae-Woon’s “A Bittersweet Life.” These are two directors who have little use for “Less is More” esthetics.

When I learned that Miike’s latest film was made for children, I was eager to see how this master of the macabre would put his own particular stamp on the work. Shown at this year’s Asian Film Festival, “The Great Yokai War” can be grouped with “Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and “The Wizard of Oz.” It is the classic tale of a humble hero, often a child, who goes off on a quest against Evil.

The hero of “The Great Yokai War” is Tadashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a 10 year old boy who has been chosen to become the Kirin Rider, a warrior that will save mankind from the forces of darkness led by the wizard Kato (Etsushi Toyokawa) and his disciple Agi (Chiaki Kuriyama), a slinky woman in skin-tight white clothing who bears a striking resemblance to the robot in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” Indeed, Kato’s realm shares the Faustian machine-age qualities of Lang’s dystopia. Kato has devised a way to transform the dead bodies of ‘yokai’ (benign ancient demons) into mechanical monsters that look like those that took over the planet in the Terminator films. As might be obvious at this point, “The Great Yokai War” is a pastiche of Hollywood films, but transformed into something uniquely Miiki-esque.

The first yokai Tadashi meets is a ‘sunekosuri’, a small, cuddly, furry creature that looks like a second cousin to the Mogwai in “Gremlins”. Through most of the film, Tadashi walks about with the sunekosuri wrapped across his head like a fur hat. It is an image that expresses Miike’s characteristically deadpan humor and one that subtly subverts the pomposity of this genre, so much in display in the Tolkien films.

As a group, the yokai have the same sort of endearing clownishness as Dorothy’s henchmen in “The Wizard of Oz.” They include a red-furred sprite who even looks like the Cowardly Lion and a geisha-like creature whose neck extends from her body like a huge snake. When her head finally comes within an inch of Tadashi’s face, she licks his face erotically, another sly touch from Miike.

If all this were not enough, “The Great Yokai War” is filled with images that spring from the surrealist classics of Jean Cocteau or Luis Buñuel. The yokai include a speaking door with a mouth and two legs as well as an umbrella man that looks like–well–an umbrella man. Not only do these creatures appear otherworldly, they often use the same kind of pretzel logic as the characters in “Alice in Wonderland.” This certainly is a children’s film, but one that is not afraid to be disturbing. This, of course, was what made the Grimm brothers’ stories so memorable. As opposed to the homogenized pap coming out of Dreamworks, Asian film once again demonstrates its superiority.


  1. I found polish distibutor!!! help me!!

    Comment by slaw — November 11, 2006 @ 12:45 pm

  2. […] (88 films to his credit) unquenchable appetite for the bizarre (see my reviews of the whacked-out Great Yokai War, Zebraman, Happiness of the Katakuris and Dead or Alive), he plays his versions of Harikiri and 13 […]

    Pingback by Hari-Kiri: Death of a Samurai « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — July 24, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

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