DVD Review: The Great Yokai War (Yokai Daisenso) – A Film By Takashi Miike
A journey from childhood to adulthood and the loss of innocence!
Adapted by Hiroshi Aramata from his serialised novels ‘Teito Monogatari’ (Tales of the Imperial Capital) The Great Yōkai War revolves around the struggles of the adolescent Tadashi Ino and his companion Yōkai against the human become immortal demon Yasunari Katō who is ultimately intent on destroying Tōkyō.
After his parents divorced adolescent Tadashi Ino and his mother Yōko moved to a small town and are living in in his grandfather’s house. During a festival at a local Shinto shrine where he is being baited by the local boys for being a soft city boy he is selected by the Yōkai Shōjō and bitten by the other, the Kirin, marking him as the Kirin Rider whose duty it is to protect all that is good for the coming year. Not realising that his appointed task is real Tadashi is hazed at school by the same local boys who teased him at the shrine. He asks his grandfather about the Kirin Rider and is told that the Kirin Rider’s task is to retrieve the sword Daitenguken from the Great Tengu who lives on the mountain.
In the meantime in an industrial complex tucked away in a dark valley in the mountains the human become demon Yasunari Katō has summoned all the negative destructive energy called Yomotsumono that has built up from things that humanity has discarded. Katō is intent on avenging the Yōkai by attacking humanity, specifically Tōkyō. To do this he has enlisted the aid of Agi, a powerful platinum blonde sprite, played by Chiaki Kuriyama with the same villainous intensity as her portrayal of Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill Volume 1. Ultimately she is to be merged with Kato and the Yomotsumono, something which she relishes in her lust for power and her love for Kato. She is kidnapping Yōkai and placing them and discarded machine junk into the furnace which contains the energy Yomotsumono which transforms them into hybrid killing machines called Tsukumogami which are being unleashed to kidnap yet more Yōkai to be hybridised. One small furry Yōkai called Sunekosuri escapes capture and is rescued and befriended by Tadashi but can only be seen by him.
To find out more about the Yōkai Tadashi travels to Sakaiminato, the birthplace of Shigeru Mizuki the Yōkai manga cartoonist and visits the Shigeru Mizuki museum. Tadashi bumps into a journalist called Sata who had been rescued from drowning when he was a boy by the Yōkai Kawahime (River Princess) and they talk about the Yōkai.
Tadashi travels up the mountain to the lair of the Great Tengu but turns back. Lured back up the mountain by Shōjō who imitates his grandfather’s voice Tadashi returns to rescue his grandfather but falls into a river and is rescued by Kawahime and meets Shōjō and a Yōkai Kappa called Kawataro and together with a Hitodama they travel to the den of the Great Tengu and retrieve the sword Daitenguken. However they are attacked by Tsukumogami, who capture the Great Tengu, and Agi who breaks the sword and captures Sunekosuri while Tadashi is knocked unconscious.
Tadashi recovers consciousness and discovers he is in a house where many Yōkai are gathered led by General Nurarihyon. They decide that they need to get the sword Daitenguken fixed by the Yōkai blacksmith Ippon-datara to fix the sword. Unfortunately Ippon-datara is held in captivity by Agi. Some decide they are unable to help, including the Ittan Momen (an animated roll of cotton) who is restrained and told by Kawataro, in a reference to Shigeru Mizuki’s manga, “You’re always really brave in those comics with Kitaro!” Azukiarai decides to help as much as he can even though all he does is count red azuki beans.
Meanwhile the industrial complex of Kato takes off on the back of a gigantic Yōkai and heads to Tōkyō where it flattens the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. A couple of homeless men see it flying off and one comments “it’s only Gamera“, a reference to the giant monster from Daiei Motion Picture Company’s films.
Tadashi and his companions hitch a ride on the wing of a Jumbo Jet heading to Tōkyō and when they arrive Ippon-datara, who has escaped, mends the sword after which the now appropriately battle dress attired Tadashi and his companions try to battle their way into the industrial complex. All the Yōkai in Japan have heard that there is to be a festival in Tōkyō and they converge on the Metropolitan Government Building inadvertently helping to overcome the Tsukumogami by having festival fights with them while Tadashi and his companions enter the industrial complex. Sata reappears though he is unable to see the Yōkai until, in a piece of unadulterated product placement, a Tsukumogami appendage lands near him and on opening is shown to be full of cans of a particular brand of Japanese beer which he drinks and is then able to see the Yōkai. Sata follows Tadashi and his companions into the industrial complex. Tadashi is confronted by the Tsukumogami that is part Sunekosuri but is able to extract a nearly dead Sunekosuri from the remains of the Tsukumogami. Enraged Tadashi engages Agi in battle. Agi is called away by Kato for their final hybridisation but is killed by Kato because she holds an impure love for him.
In the meantime Azukiarai, whose beans have been scattered because of the violence going on around him, arrives to find the last bean that makes up his precious collection, the trail had led him into the heart of the industrial complex. Sato who wants to be near Kawahime barges in and accidentally knocks the azuki beans out of Azukiarai’s hands and as Kato tries to merge with Yomotsumono one of the beans gets trapped inside the furnace with them. Radiating positivity the bean destroys Yomotsumono and the explosion blows all the Yōkai away. The Great Yōkai Elder, played by Shigeru Mizuki in a cameo role, reveals himself and gives guidance on the fortunes of war.
Tadashi and Sata come round on a street in Tōkyō and Tadashi tells a white lie to Sata about Kawahime which signifies his first adult act.
The scene cuts away to Tadashi as an adult who cannot see Sunekosuri who has appeared in the house and as Tadashi cycles off to work a shadow falls across Sunekosuri. The camera pans around to reveal…
This is an unexpected film from Takashi Miike who is much better known for the gore and extreme violence of his yakuza movies. However, in spite of the low budget special effects The Great Yōkai War is a charming if somewhat wacky, at least to many non-Japanese audiences, fantasy film. As with most storylines involving mythical creatures the main motif is that of the hero’s journey. For Tadashi it is also his journey from childhood to adulthood and his loss of innocence though the cusp of adolescence. A point given more emphasis by the adolescent eroticism imbued into the picture by the mini skirted Agi but more so by the rescues of both Sata and Tadashi from drowning by Kawahime whose damp inner thigh their hands caress while they lie in her lap. Though Miike seems to make a point about even the Yōkai having lives to live just like human beings, the main subtext to the plot appears to be about the world’s ever escalating wasteful industrialisation. However the film’s more serious elements are balanced by its madcap plot and the cast of Yōkai. A thoroughly enjoyable move!
Label: Tokyo Shock
Release date: 12th September 2006
Running time: 124 mins
Director: Takashi Miike
Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.