April 10, 2012

Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)

Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda. Starring Akane Kawasaki ("Chie"), Yoshihiko Aoyama ("Shinhachiro Mayama"), Osamu Ôkawa ("Iori Ohdate"), and Chikara Hashimoto ("Daimon"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (ADV Films)
Running time: 01:19:56
Country: Japan

"Yokai", in Japanese folklore, is a broad term for an apparition or supernatural creature. In the late 60's in Japan, there were three adventure/fantasy films produced that prominently featured various types of Yokai. The YOKAI MONSTERS series was apparently aimed at children, but I can certainly picture young kids watching these films and being absolutely terrified despite them being somewhat lighthearted in nature. For one, the monsters in the film - though mostly peaceful and protectors of their land - are hideous, quite frankly, and resemble too many common things for there to be a complete detachment from the fact that they're made-up creatures. In this particular film (and in folklore), there are Yokai who resemble common animals (albeit humanoid hybrids), and there are others that resemble actual humans with some sort of physical deformity. Not to mention the fact that the evil Yokai in the film is a hideous bird-like creature who sucks the blood out of people. Yay! Fun for the whole family my ass.

SPOOK WARFARE (which could mean so many things depending on how much of a racist you are) is the first in the YOKAI MONSTERS trilogy. I'm assuming all three of them were filmed back to back considering how close together they were released, but I could be wrong. In this particular film, a prophecy is fulfilled when a vampiric blood-sucking demon from Babylonia is awakened by thieves. The demon, referred to in the film as "Daimon", immediately heads straight for Japan and transfers its soul into the body of a highly-respected landowner. Daimon proceeds to wreak havoc by sucking the blood out of peoples' necks and possessing the bodies of unfortunate victims. A mythical Water Imp named Kappa, who protects the home and surrounding area of the aforementioned landowner, witnesses Daimon in action and basically challenges him to a fight that subsequently plays out in a slapstick-comedy nature, but his Imp powers prove to be no match for the powerful demon and he's forced to vacate the property as per Yokai regulations I guess. As the landowner's daughter finds herself in danger, Kappa assembles a team of Yokai who live in a nearby forest and I'm sure you can imagine how the rest goes.

One of the main things that stands out about this film is the wildly-imaginative creature design. The creatures are, for the most part, based on existing Yokai in Japanese folklore, but they're quite interesting if you're like me and not very familiar with certain aspects of Japanese culture. The film that kept coming to mind as I watched this was NIGHTBREED; both are similar in a lot of ways, except this is obviously much more lighthearted and not nearly as frightening. Some of the creatures in the film are just downright bizarre, especially what appears to be a talking rock (or mushroom - I couldn't really tell) and a levitating umbrella with arms. As much as I'd love to describe each of the creatures in detail, I won't since there are more than a handful of them. As I hinted at earlier, I'd be hesitant to let my child watch this if I were a parent.

Aside from Kappa, who's featured somewhat prominently for most of the film, SPOOK WARFARE teases you with the creatures by not exposing them too much right away and instead focuses on the storyline involving the landowner's daughter as the whole "recruiting" process is going on. Even once the creatures become more involved in the actual plot, you don't see as much of them as you'd expect until the very end of the film, where not only do we get to see the Yokai in action, but we get to see an entire army of them that essentially manifest and emerge from the spirit world to battle Daimon. I found this section in the back end of the film to be the most entertaining and impressive part of the entire movie, mainly because it's unlike anything I've ever seen before.

Since SPOOK WARFARE does occasionally go back and forth between the Yokai and the main plot thread involving the demon terrorizing the landowner's estate and eventually branching out, the pacing is somewhat affected by this and there are times where the momentum comes to a halt, SPOOK WARFARE is a tad slow in spots. And while it's not an outright comedy per se, there are a few comedic moments throughout the film, and effective ones at that. Even though SPOOK WARFARE isn't a standout film when it comes to Japanese horror cinema, it still pretty much played out exactly like I expected it to. It's essentially advertised as a film that features a wide assortment of bizarre monsters, and in that respect it delivers the goods.

Score: 7

1 comment:

  1. This was the most kid friendly of the lot, for me, Aaron. They get more serious with each succeeding entry. Nice comparison with NIGHTBREED, too.