The Great Yokai War is a fantasy movie in the same vein as Alice In Wonderland. However, by sucessfully intergrating japanese folklore and contemparary stylization, something new and fresh is created. Tadashi Ino is an introspective kid living with his mother at his grandpa’s house after his parents divorce. When he is bitten by a puppet dragon at a festival, he is told by the local kids that he is now the Kirin Rider. Although Tadashi doesn’t think this actually means anything, he finds himself drawn in a yokai war, acting as the chosen human champion to help fight the evil Kato, who is merging yokai spirits into machine technology in order to create an army to take over the world. Director Miike taps his large pool of veteran actors like Kenichi Endo and Renji Ishibashi to play some of the yokai. He creates a sort of yokai theatre that both children and adults can get lost in.
The story is pretty typical of children’s fantasy, with the young boy Tadashi Ino being a nobody at school, the target for bullies and abuse. The story is nonsense, the humor is inappropriate, the special effects are uneven, and the tone is childish. And yet you must see this movie. Why? Well the uneven special effects are because Miike uses every filming technique in the book. While many of the creatures will remain unknown to the non-Japanese many such as the snow woman, tengu and demonic lanterns and umbrellas will be familiar to those with a basic familiarity with Japanese folklore.
When I first watched The Great Yokia War, I got to thinking about how few movies are made anymore with such a strong sense of good and evil or with such a childlike wonder with what is possible. If you know Miike, than just the thought of him directing a childrens movie is out of this world, and true to fashion he delivered another bizarre movie that is like nothing we have ever seen. Also the acting from the supports and the main kid are superb, the kid actually scared me with his ability during some of the battle scenes. Unlike corny movies made in America, the Japanese tend to take their acting seriously in their movies even the corny ones.
The thing that makes The Great Yokai War such a cool film for me is that in America right now, Americans have become so terrified for darker material, that it is never seen in our cinema anymore and definitely not for kids programming, but an outlet needs to be there and with these amazing Japanese ghost tales your child can have that outlet. Cataloging Miike’s films through the history of this site I am pleased to announce this is his most ambitious effort and I am glad I gave it a watch. It is truely a special moment when you can gather your kids with you in the same room and sit down to Takashi Miike film. Don’t pass this one up.