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Gegege no Kitaro
|     Kevin Ma's Review    |     JMaruyama's Review     |     availability     |

(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 Muroi).

ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 ブルーレイディスク

Year: 2007  
Director: Katsuhide Motoki  
  Producer: Teruyuki Matsuomoto, Chihiro Kameyama
  Writer: Daisuke Habara, Shigeru Mizuki (original manga story)
  Cast: Eiji Wentz, Mai Inoue, Rena Tanaka, Ruka Uchida, Yo Oizumi, Shigeru Muroi, Kanpei Hazama, Koyuki, You, Shido Nakamura
  The Skinny: 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.
Kevin Ma:

Ah, 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)


Along 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" (ghost spirits).

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 or thrilling.

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 story wise.

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 2007)

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
King Records
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English subtitles
Various Extras

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen