Hanji WakaikappaMari KandaAkane Kawasaki
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare
Medium: film
Year: 1968
Director: Yoshiyuki Kuroda
Writer: Tetsuro Yoshida
Keywords: Daiei's 1960s yokai trilogy, yokai, kappa, fantasy, vampires, samurai, historical
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Yoshihiko Aoyama, Hideki Hanamura, Chikara Hashimoto, Hiromi Inoue, Mari Kanda, Takashi Kanda, Akane Kawasaki, Gen Kimura, Hajime Kimura, Gen Kuroki, Ikuko Mori, Hinode Nishikawa, Tokio Oki, Tomoo Uchida, Hanji Wakai
Format: 79 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0164402/
Website category: Japanese old
Review date: 29 August 2011
It's too staid to be as off-the-wall insane as you'd want for it to be brilliant. However it's still one of Daiei Studio's 1960s Yokai trilogy and as such pretty loopy.
Imagine a Hammer horror film of the same period, but Japanese and having super-wacky yokai heroes. Oh, and it's apparently for children... I'm not sure if I believe that.
It starts like a cross between The Omen and Dracula. A demon called Daimon is woken from his 4,000-year-old sleep by grave robbers. The last thing he knew, he was in ancient Babylon. Naturally he kills the robbers and flies off into a thunderstorm, then soon afterwards sinks a sailing ship just by flying overhead. This is atmospheric and the only way you can tell the difference between this and a regular Hammer horror is the rubber-suited Daimon himself, who looks like a vampire turkey with an elongated head.
Soon he lands in Japan. (Why?) Some samurai are fishing, but Daimon's storm breaks up the party and allows him to get the leader alone. This is where the film becomes even more Dracula-like, since it turns out that Daimon feeds on humans by biting their necks and drinking their blood. His victims then appear to rise from the dead and walk the land as possessed undead, themselves capable of killing more victims and spreading the curse of Daimon ever-wider. I wouldn't go so far as to call this horror, but it can occasionally get creepy (e.g. Yoshihiko Aoyama and the candles) and I don't know if I'd call it obviously a children's movie. Yes, the yokai are goofy. They're a laugh. The tone is basically meant to be fun. Nevertheless to me it feels like a cousin of Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
Halfway through, incidentally, Daimon decides that he's got bored with drinking the blood of adults and has his samurai rounding up children.
However we also have yokai. These include the weirdos we saw in Yokai Monsters: One Hundred Monsters, plus plenty more. What was that walking potato, then? Or was it a mushroom? One of them's got a pot belly that shows TV images. The umbrella tsukumogami is back (aka. the Loopiest Movie Monster Ever), as is the snake-necked woman. Theoretically some of these are themselves are monsters from a horror film, except that they're also the goofiest monsters you've ever seen and amusingly vulnerable to traditional spirit attacks. They can all be incapacitated en masse by a badly thrown piece of paper with an anti-demon charm written on it, for instance.
The yokai aren't in the film as much as you'd think. A lot of it's given over to the humans fighting Daimon on their own, at which they do quite well. We're halfway through before the yokai decide they believe the kappa's story of a shapeshifting blood-drinker, for instance. However of course what we're really watching for is the yokai shakedown, which is a lot of fun and would occasionally make me laugh. They're outclassed, mind you. They're just monsters, whereas Daimon's a Babylonian god. (The first thing he does in his new human household is to destroy its shrines and altars.) Nevertheless they're determined yokai, if not particularly competent, and they're going to get rid of Daimon if it's the last thing they do!
There's a slightly disturbing nationalistic tinge to this, incidentally. The yokai initially think Daimon can't exist because he's not in their Japanese Yokai Book, then on learning he's a foreigner keep saying it'll "bring shame on Japanese demons" if they don't get rid of him. In fairness, this is laudable. You wouldn't want Daimon as a neighbour. However the finale sees Daimon fleeing abroad... and the yokai celebrate this as a victory and then all go home! Presumably it doesn't count if he's drinking the blood of foreigners.
There's also a cameo with two homosexual guards whom I'm sure must have been an established comedy double act or something. They show up for one scene and goof around, in a manner which made me laugh but might conceivably have got annoying had they been doing it for the full eighty minutes. I thought they were excellent, actually.
I want to love this film more than I do. I only like it. However I love its old-school eccentricity and the way it characterises its yokai as well-meaning and slightly rubbish underdogs. They're lovable and cute, but in a far weirder way than Pixar's Monsters Inc. They're the real stars of the film and it's a joy to see them going mano a mano with Daimon, usually unsuccessfully. Quite often they even made me laugh. I'm sure lots of children would indeed love this... but it's also a film in which the way to defeat a child-killing vampire monster is to stab him in the face. Even the splattering blood is Hammer-like, looking as it does like poster paint. It's worth watching, though.