It's the sequel to Kitaro (2007)
, a live-action adaptation of Shigeru Mizuki's yokai manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro. Most people seem to think the sequel's an improvement, but I'm not one of them. The 2008 film isn't as kiddified and annoying as its predecessor, but it's messy and lacks clarity.
In fairness the plot eventually turns out to be going somewhere, but en route it meanders. This is a two-hour film, significantly longer than its predecessor, and it makes poor use of its running time.
Kii Kitano is a schoolgirl who one evening hears singing and finds scales growing on her wrist. Rat-Man and Kitaro show up and whisk her away. They investigate the scales, find that they're connected to five ancient musical instruments and send everyone off to look for them. The storyline then degenerates into a multiple quest structure, only to collapse at the 50-minute mark when we learn what's really going on. Things now become more meaningful, but not significantly better plotted. There are bad guys, hired assassins and misguided mermaid monsters on a thousand-year-old mission of vengeance, but the events connecting them are amorphous.
The 2007 film didn't do that. It was a children's film to its bones, so you always knew where you were.
Paradoxically, at times it feels underwritten. Kitano spends the first half being little more than a plot coupon. She's not even a viewpoint character. The film assumes we're familiar with Kitaro, Rat-Man, Cat-Girl, etc., so lurches straight into its yokai world without considering how Kitano feels about it. She just tags along behind the weirdos. She only comes alive throughout the first half for a scene where she's pointlessly rude to Eiji Wentz, then apologises.
Later though she gains significance. What these two films have in common is their emotional weight. I get that from anime too. Comparable Western children's films would probably be fun, but their attempts at depth will tend to be cheap, cliched and/or narcissistic. The 2007 Kitaro film though had children losing their father, while its 2008 sequel has people sacrificing themselves to a soul-eating monster, in an attempt to right a thousand-year-old wrong. It has sincerity. This rescued the movie for me. I'd been grumpy about the plotting, but then the film found power and some hard questions for Kitaro about his choices regarding humans.
The yokai stuff's fun, of course. It's always cool to see what freakiness they'll think up next, e.g. a creepy subterranean sentry with his eyes in his palms. The regulars all seem more confident in their roles, with Wentz having made the title role his own and Yo Oizumi for some reason working better for me as Rat-Man. My only objection involves Rena Tanaka, not for her performance as Cat-Girl, but because they've given her an ugly haircut and red tights that stop you from noticing her red mini-dress. She's still hot, but no longer insanely so.
I also liked the climactic fights. Taking on yokai would be weird. You'll see a man fighting a wall, the effectiveness of Rat-Man's flatulence and Kitaro doing something odd to his opponent's sword.
In the end, the film dragged me into liking it, almost despite myself. It's got depth and emotional power that made up for the fact that its speed-written script had needed to lose a good twenty minutes. It's also got cool yokai weirdness and a fifty-foot walking skeleton. I also like their relationship with the afterlife. "I'm going to hell." "Say hello to King Enma from me." It's also not afraid to be mildly inappropriate, with toilet humour and a scene in which a musical instrument seems to have an orgasm. This doesn't feel so obviously a children's film, unlike its predecessor, although of course children would have been an important part of the target audience.
Love the GeGeGe song, by the way.
"I've come to take your soul."