(from left to right ) Konaki Jiji (Kanbei Hazama),
Neko Musume (Rena Tanaka),
Kitaro (Eiji Wentzi), Medama No Oyaji (voiced by Isamu
Tanonaka), Miura Miki (Mao Inoue),
Nezumi Otoko (Yo Oizumi) and Sunakake Baba (Shigeru
Matsuomoto, Chihiro Kameyama
Habara, Shigeru Mizuki (original manga story)
Wentz, Mai Inoue, Rena Tanaka, Ruka Uchida, Yo Oizumi,
Shigeru Muroi, Kanpei Hazama, Koyuki, You, Shido Nakamura
An entertaining family film that may disappoint older
audiences looking for a darker monster extravaganza.
Still, Kitaro should satisfy fans that grew up
with their beloved yokai characters. Sadly, it's not
a very good film for those outside that circle.
the dilemmas of adapting a well established animated
character to live-action. While the filmmakers no longer
have to develop the main characters since they've been
known for decades, they also have to leave things unchanged
in order to satisfy the fans. Created in 1959, Gegege
No Kitaro is probably the most beloved yokai character
in mainstream Japanese culture, but it took almost 40
years for Fuji Television to bring its characters to
live-action. To pull it off, Fuji teamed up with Hong
Kong's Centro Digital for the 700 cgi shots required
to put all the monsters and supernatural powers onscreen.
However, despite all the money the film earned during
its theatrical release, newcomers will end up wondering
what the hoopla was all about.
Rather than introducing everyone
all over again, director Katsuhide Motoki and screenwriter
Daisuke Habara (who, intriguingly enough, alternates
between comic adaptations like this and character dramas
like Hula Girls) simply structures the film as
another episode of the cartoon. That means you're already
supposed to know that Kitaro (pop star Eiji Wentz) is
a half-yokai, half-human trying to maintain peace between
the yokai world and the human world by protecting the
latter from the former. You're also supposed to know
that his father is in the form of a talking eyeball,
his best friend/nemesis is the sneaky Ratman (Yo Oizumi),
and he has to constantly refuse the advances of Cat
Girl (Rena Tanaka). This time, the live-action film
adds two obligatory young human characters for Kitaro
to protect: Kenta (Ruka Uchida) and his older sister
Mika (Mao Inoue).
The plot is fairly pedestrian:
Ratman stumbles onto a stone under a shrine for the
Heavenly Fox (apparently all other foxes are evil) and
tries to pawn it without knowing what it is. However,
the stone corrupts anyone who comes upon it, and it
also unleashes an evil fox that has the power to destroy
the world. Tempted by the power of the stone, Kenta
and Mika's father steals it and hands it to Kenta for
safekeeping, before he gets arrested for the theft.
Kitaro, who previously helped Kenta get rid of a few
monsters, now has to find the evil stone, or he will
be held responsible for its theft. Even more, he must
find the stone before the evil foxes can get to Kenta.
It's fairly obvious that the
plot for Kitaro is simply an excuse to show off
lots of cgi monsters. In addition to the original characters,
the filmmakers add several other well-known yokai characters
from folk legend, forcing Centro to work overtime to
keep things visually interesting. However, like Takashi
Miike's The Great Yokai War, Kitaro is
made for a family audience. That means the scariest
thing the monsters can do are perform lots of back flips
or shoot out hundreds of silver darts that never actually
hurt anyone. That's OK, since the original Kitaro cartoons are more adventurous than scary in tone. But
when the fate of mankind hinges on getting a kid to
give up something he's carrying the whole damn time,
there's needs to be more dramatic tension to things
interesting, even if the film is aimed at just kids.
The cast also does little to
help. Most of the supporting cast is appropriately over-the-top,
with Yo Oizumi having the most fun trying to act as
much like Ratman as possible. However, lead Eiji Wentz
fails to bring any of the mischievous charm of the original
character into live-action. Since Wentz has years of
performing experience, this disparity in skill versus
result can only be explained by ill-conceived casting.
Kitaro is supposed to be a 300-year-old spirit in a
child's body, so seeing a twentysomething half-Japanese
pop idol in the role doesn't just challenge credibility,
it's flat-out jarring.
But in family entertainment,
no one really watches the acting, so Kitaro is
really not that bad for what it is. It has imaginative
monsters, brisk pacing, good-looking special effects,
and even a clean idol as its lead. The film also gets
bonus points assuming that you recognize all the original
characters. However, that's also where one can be disappointed.
Since the filmmakers made the film specifically for
the millions of people who grew up with these characters,
those unfamiliar with the yokai world would not only
be somewhat confused at who's who, but also may find Kitaro to be surprisingly tame. Still, that doesn't
mean the film isn't enjoyable. In a world where franchises
are "re-imagined" constantly by giving them a darker
edge to appeal to older audiences, it's almost refreshing
to see filmmakers go back to an old-fashioned approach
in adapting a popular story. It may not be a very good
film, but Kitaro is competently made family entertainment,
and seems to enjoy being so. (Kevin Ma, 2007)
with Tezuka Osamu (Astro Boy, Jungle Taitei),
Hasegawa Machiko (Sazae-san), Ishinomori Shotaro
(Kamen Rider, Kikaider) and Fujio Fujiko
(Doraemon, Pa-Man, Obake Q-Taro),
Mizuki Shigeru is among one of the most prolific Japanese
manga artists of his time. His Gegege no Kitaro manga, which debuted in 1959, reintroduced Japanese
children and adults to the fantastical, spooky and sometimes
horrific folklore of the Japanese "yokai"
The fascinating mythology
of the yokai is rooted in Japan's ancient past but was
captured by ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artists during
the Edo period (1603-1868) in elaborate, colorful and
wondrous art which is much sought after even now. Drawing
from this rich world of ghoulish and haunting imagery
by artists like Toriyama Sekien and Aotoshi Matsui,
Mizuki created Gegege no Kitaro, which told the
story of a ghost boy born in a cemetery from the womb
of his dead mother and who used his supernatural abilities
to protect humans from the mischief and torments of
other Yokai like himself.
Gegege no Kitaro proved
to be Mizuki's most popular character, so much so that
the manga series lasted more than a decade in print
and spawned five different anime series (1968-1969,
1971-1972, 1985-1988, 1996-1998, 2007) and several movies
(mostly anime "Eiga-ban" versions of the series).
There is even a museum dedicated to Mizuki and his creation
in the town of Sakaiminato in Tottori Prefecture, Japan.
The Gegege no Kitaro theme, which cleverly remarked
at how carefree a ghost's life can be, is still fondly
remembered by adults.
Motoki Katsuhide's live action
version is just the latest installment to come to light
and while all the elements from the manga and anime
are here, this version unfortunately doesn't have the
charm or fun.
Pop idol Wentz Eiji (one half
of singing duo WaT along with Koike Teppei) plays the
ghostly hero, Kitaro. Wentz plays a slightly older version
of the character, who in the manga and anime is generally
supposed to be an eternally young elementary aged kid.
From the grey fright wig to the tattered uniform and
wooden "geta" shoes, Wentz looks ridiculous.
What may have worked in anime doesn't seem to translate
well to live action.
The movie in fact seems very much
a Disney-like kid's movie with much of the action toned
down and more of the slapstick variety than frightening
The main story revolves around
a young boy, Miura Kenta (Uchida Yuka). His father (Riju
Go) gains possession of a magical talisman that is said
to be forged by the goddess Tenko (Koyuki). The talisman
houses the spirits of mad Shogun Oda Nobunaga and Christian
warrior Amakusa Shiro among others, and is protected
by a pack of "Bakke Kitsune" (Ghost Foxes)
whose leader, Sora Gitsune/Sky Fox (Hashimoto Satoshi)
obsessively wants to retrieve it back so he can use
its power to become a god.
Wentz makes for a passable
if albeit uninteresting Kitaro and his disinterested
acting style is more than a bit boring. The pretty Inoue
Mao makes for a slightly more interesting character
and love interest as Miura Mika, but her scenes are
too few and ultimately she is relegated to just the
"girl in peril". Uchida Yuka is a cute kid
but he is frankly annoying as Kenta.
I was pretty surprised at how
silly and cheap some of the costumes and SFX/CGI effects
in general looked. One can't help but be disappointed
considering the missed opportunities at bringing to
life Mizuki's unique yokai designs which were so spooky
in the manga.
When reviewing Gegege no
Kitaro it's impossible to not make comparisons to
two other recent films that also dealt with Yokai, Miike
Takashi's Yokai Daisensou remake (AKA: The
Great Yokai War) and Shiota Akihiko's Dororo,
both of which were much better films technically and
Whereas Yokai Daisensou and Dororo succeeded in bringing to life the
mythical creatures of Japan like Kappa, Tengu and other
ghosts, the yokai in Gegege no Kitaro seem to
be just bland "man-in-a-suit" types which
would look much more at home on children's "Tokusatsu"
TV than on the big screen.
Surprisingly, a number of recognizable
Japanese "talento" (stars) make guest cameos
as various Yokai, including 'You', Koyuki, Nishida Toshiyuki,
Dave Spector, Nakamura Shido, Kanbe Hiroshi, Takeshima
Yasunori, Fuji Takashi, Yanagisawa Shingo, and Tani
Kei. However, their efforts don't really save the film
and amount to mere interesting and comical diversions
from the lackluster story.
Kitaro's inner circle of friends
and associates is another bright spot. Tanonaka Isamu,
who voiced Kitaro's wise father, Medama No Oyaji, in
most of the anime versions, once again does the honors
here. Oizumi Yo (Gamera 2, Udon) is hilarious
as the treacherous Human-Yokai hybrid Nezumi Otoko.
Much like Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost In Space,
his constant scheming and cowardly antics are much amusing.
Tanaka Rena (Drugstore Gal, GTO, Tokyo
Marigold) is also great as Neko Musume, the cat-like
"girl friend" of Kitaro. Muroi Shigeru (Makoto, Out) as Sunakake Baba and Hazama Kanbei (Out)
as Konaki Jiji are also very good in their roles although
they aren't given much screen time.
Overall Gegege no Kitaro seems squarely geared towards undemanding kids and tweens
who just want to watch kid friendly entertainment. But
to those like myself, who were hoping for slightly more
edgier entertainment in the spirit of the anime series
or other ghost movies like Ghostbusters, Gegege
no Kitaro is a bit of a disappointment. (JMaruyama
Region 2 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
courtesy of http://www.bespara.jp/
Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen