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The Great Yokai War
AKA: Yokai Daisenso


Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser
2-Disc DTS Special Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and Cantonese Language Tracks
DTS ES, Dolby EX 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Numerous Extras (Subtitled in English)

Year: 2005
Director: Takashi Miike
Producer: Shigeru Mizuki, Hiroshi Aramata, Natsuhiko Kyogoku, Miyuki Miyabe
Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Bunta Sugawara, Chiaki Kuriyama, Kaho Minami, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Mai Takahashi, Masaomi Kondo, Naoto Takenaka, Kenishi Endo, Sadao Abe, Takashi Okamura, Renji Ishibashi, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Toshie Negishi, Asumi Miwa, Miyuki Miyabe (cameo)
The Skinny: Harry Potter meets Japanese mythology in this epic tale of a young boy thrust into a hidden world of magic and monsters. Although not quite on par with some of the better fantasy films of this ilk, The Great Yokai War is an enjoyable film nonetheless, thanks to the film's playful sense of humor, the performance of its young lead, and the undeniably compelling Yokai creatures.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Takashi Miike, director of such disturbing films as Audition and Ichi the Killer, gets kid-friendly in The Great Yokai War, a film that could, in some respects, be seen as Japan's answer to the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises. This modern day re-imagining of Kuroda Yoshiyuki's 1968 film of the same name starts Ryunosuke Kamiki as Tadashi, the meek child of a divorced couple. While his father and older sister reside in Tokyo, Tadashi has joined his mother (Kaho Minami) and his grandfather (Bunta Sugawara) in the countryside. As a city kid, Tadashi has a tough time adjusting to rural life, in no small part due to the fact that a) his mother stays out late, b) his grandfather is practically senile, and c) bullies in school take great pleasure in picking on him every chance they get. And they say country life is supposed to be relaxing.
     Things get even more intense when Tadashi attends a local festival. As is customary, a person is chosen at random to be a Kirin Rider, a legendary figure who is entrusted with the sacred task of scaling a mountain and claiming a magical blade from the mythical Great Goblin. To his great shock, Tadashi is picked to be the Kirin Rider, and it isn't long before he starts believing that the "quest story" he was told isn't just a fairytale. After talking things over with his grandfather, Tadashi ventures out to the mountain alone, and soon finds himself befriending a small, furry creature called Sunekosuri, one of the first of many (and I mean MANY) Yokai (goblins) he'll encounter during this grand adventure.
     Unbeknownst to Tadashi, an evil wizard named Kato (Etsushi Toyokawa) is wreaking vengeance on both the real and spirit world by abducting harmless little yokai and throwing them into his huge mechanical engine of doom. Once inside this device, these generally pleasant creatures are transformed into unrelenting killing machines, all of whom mindlessly serve their new master in his quest to not only kidnap children from their homes, but annihilate the entire planet. Why? Well, he's mad at the world for its wasteful ways. Apparently, whenever humans throw away anything for any reasons, there's a sense of resentment attached to that item. Kato has harnessed that hatred, channeling it for his own use. And in his mission for total world domination, Kato is assisted by Aki (Chiaki Kuriyama) a sexy, but strange white-haired yokai whose blind love for Kato has made her turn against her goblin brethren. If you thought Kuriyama's turn as Go Go Yubari in Kill Bill, Volume 1 was villainous, wait until you see Aki - she's one tough customer, whip and all.
     With Suneskori captured by the enemy and the Earth threatened with total destruction, Tadashi chooses to help the yokai. Thankfully, he doesn't have to fight alone, as he's joined by the upbeat Kirin Herald Shojo (Masaomi Kondo), the incorrigible Kappa ("Water Sprite") Kawataro (Sadao Abe), and the beautiful river princess Kawa-hime (Mai Takahashi). But will this small band of heroes be enough to save the world? Will Tadashi conquer his fears and vanquish the evil Kato? And even more important, will Tadashi remember to call his mom to let her know he'll be coming home late?
     Although The Great Yokai War may not stack up as one of the better fantasy films from a storytelling perspective, it is a consistently entertaining film. The movie works in large part due to Ryunosuke Kamiki's acting, as his performance helps sell the reality of the film. Although the picture itself may wink at the audience on occasion, Kamiki does not, reacting to the outlandish situations much as one would expect a real kid would. The Yokai creatures themselves are perhaps the most fascinating aspects of the film, some looking like Japanese cousins to the denizens of Jim Henson's Creature Shop, while others look to be the product of the latest in CGI technology. Although the production values on The Great Yokai War range from cutting edge to that of an old school Godzilla film, the monsters never fail to interest. There are literally hundreds of them, each with their own title and function. In fact, there's so many of them so that you need your own scorecard to keep up, a luxury actually provided in extras of the DVD release. If anything, the Yokai prove to be a nice break from centaurs, unicorns, and other now commonplace mythological figures in Western culture. Although not new to the Japanese, this particular big-screen depiction of the Yokai feels fresh and exciting, possessing more creatures pound for pound than the famous cantina scene in Star Wars, if not the entire double trilogy.
     The film possesses a keen sense of humor, often poking fun at the genre itself. Kawataro's cries of discrimination when Tadashi favors the pretty Kawa-hime and the furry Suneskori is a hoot, as is his self-aware moment of pointing out genre conventions whenever the heroes are exploring a cave, only to find himself succumbing to the various traps he's tries to warn Tadashi about in the first place. Although the film is funny, it's also a surprisingly poignant fable about one boy's coming of age, his loss of innocence, and his ultimate entrance into adulthood. Of course, he does this by battling an evil wizard and his homicidal steampunk monsters, but it's a coming-of-age tale, all the same. While a bit of a mess story-wise, The Great Yokai War is a thoroughly engaging, wildly inventive fantasy film that definitely merits a look from fans of the genre. The film's final scene hints at a sequel, so if there's a Great Yokai War II, consider this reviewer drafted. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen