Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare
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While storming the ruins of Babylonia, thieves unearth the ancient tomb of the wicked vampire demon Daimon. The demon flees to Japan, where he takes possession of Lord Isobe's soul and begins to feed on innocent townspeople. An astute villager suspects local patriarch Isobe has become a bloodthirsty demon and seeks help from friendly Yokai (Spirit Monsters) to uncover the truth. Will the army of Yokai be enough to help vanquish the dreaded Daimon, or will the villagers fall prey to an unspeakable fate?
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In the first film, "Spook Warfare", an ancient Babylonian Vampire Demon invades a Japanese village, disguises himself as a feudal lord and begins wreaking all sorts of havoc with the locals. This included killing women and children while screaming, "Are you disrespecting your social superiors??!" before slicing them in two or three pieces.
The only force standing in their way are a bunch of spirits, including the petulant Kappa, that are more concerned about their reputation than anything else; I mean, what will the neighbors say if they allow a Babylonian Demon come into their territory and start munching on the locals?
The final showdown is a literal fireworks display of kitsch special effects, archaic film techniques and odd-ball nonsense. The final parade of ghosts is a nice, lyrical image right up there with the lady of the lake story in "100 Monsters". If you want something different and demented, start with this schizo piece of lunacy; children will love all the blood-sucking!
The story commences with some fairly boring narration about an ancient evil spirit, Daimon, who is entombed in Babylonia 4,000 years ago. All was going swimmingly until a couple of explorers unleash Daimon the demon, who promptly decides to relocate to Japan for a reason I cannot entirely comprehend. The film is in Japanese with English subtitles, so occasionally nuance and subtlety of thoughts aren't well conveyed, therefore it's entirely possible that this makes more sense than it seemed to for a typical native English speaker. Daimon promptly makes his way to the Izu Magisterial Palace, where the kind Magistrate, Hyogo Isobe (Takashi Kanda,) is patrolling his grounds during a storm. He is killed by Daimon, who promptly takes his body, which is a good thing if he wants to fit in, as Daimon's normal form vaguely resembles a flying stalk of asparagus with talons. When the Magistrate comes back to his home he finds his devoted assistant samurai Shinpachiro Mayama (Yoshihiko Aoyama) and his daughter, Lady Chie (Akane Kawasaki) greeting him along with their dog. He kills the dog with his sword and starts tearing his home apart, insisting that all religious artifacts be destroyed. Dismayed by this rapid personality change, Chie and Shinpachiro (who are dating) try to figure out what's going on.
It doesn't take them long with a little help from their friends. The first of the "Japanese apparitions" to appear is Kappa the Water Imp, whose appearance made me laugh out loud. He has a flat head and a duck's bill, and I wondered if Sid and Marty Krofft has consulted on the film, as this is definitely as weird as "Lidsville" (I would love to have seen Charles Nelson Reilly as a samurai, but I digress.) Kappa diagnoses the problem as demonic possession, and summons his army of apparitions, while Shinpachiro consults with his uncle, a Buddhist monk, to learn how to defeat the demon. I will admit that I grew quite tired of his uncle's chanting (though the subtitles are amusing,) but was intrigued by their plan to defeat Daimon. Kappa (whose chief weapon is head-butting,) introduces us to lots of very strange creatures: the Two-Headed Woman (Keiko Yukitomo) is actually pretty creepy as she has a normal and quite lovely face on one side of her head, and a horrible witch face with excessively long nose on the other. (I greatly enjoyed the scene where she confuses and terrifies the two guards. Watch for it.) There is a little guy who has the head of a beet, and there's Ikuko Môri as the Long-Necked Monster, whose neck resembles part anaconda, part Stretch Armstrong. My favorite of the monsters by far is the Umbrella Monster. Most of the monsters are played by actors in costumes, but some are not. The Umbrella Monster is one of the mechanical characters, and it is absolutely as weird as it gets. He is an umbrella with one leg, eyes, and a really long tongue which he uses both to lick his enemies with, and for communication.
Through concerted efforts the forces of good get Daimon to leave Isobe, but he comes back as the new Magistrate, who orders Shinpachiro executed for the murder of Isobe, as Shinpachiro is the only honorable samurai who understands what is actually happening and is a genuine threat to him. This death sentence revitalizes the Japanese apparitions, who call on their peers from across the country to mount an all out attack on Daimon. Daimon clones himself and at one point becomes gigantic (Godzilla sized in his asparagus monster form,) which proves to be his downfall, as one of the now much smaller apparitions is able to blind him, leading to his ultimate defeat and justice for their cause, and assuredly future romance for Lady Chie and Shinpachiro.
The film can definitely be viewed as a camp classic, but it is more than that. It is extremely imaginative, and entertaining as a classic good-versus-evil story. The special effects are not that spectacular (I did like the ending shot of the apparitions reverting to the spirit world even though it was a bit overlong,) and the continuity is sometimes a bit hard to follow, mostly due to language and cultural barriers. I have to admit that when watching it I occasionally had thoughts of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and actually considered the title "Lady Chie and Her Pets" for my review, but in the end I decided to be more respectful as I liked the film too much. This is too original and too bizarre of a movie to view only as a camp classic, so feel free to laugh if you must (there's times you will have essentially no choice,) but also enjoy an amazingly original example of 1960's Japanese cinema, and view it for the cultural oddity and artifact that it is.
"Yokai Monsters - Spook Warfare" is one of the best examples of old Japanese horror, with traditional monsters in a comic battle of wits and magic. While a lot of the costumes aren't very convincing -- unsurprising for the 1960s -- it's a funny and very weird story.
A pair of Arab tomb-raiders are pillaging an ancient Babylonian ruin, when they accidently set free the ancient vampire Daimon. Daimon travels (for no apparent reason) over the sea to Japan, and takes over the body of the magistrate. After he trashes shrines, kills the dog, and starts sucking blood out of his servants, his daughter Chie (Akane Kawasaki) and her boyfriend Shinhachiro (Yoshihiko Aoyama) start to figure out that there's something wrong.
Daimon also evicts the house's water demon (or kappa), who flees to the Monsters' Shrine to ask for help from other apparitions. The other spooks don't believe him, until a pair of fleeing children confirm his story. Now they must wage war against a creature much more powerful than any of them -- and even killing Daimon might not end the battle.
Women with two faces. Kappas. Long-necked goblins. And ghosts with long weedy hair. Most of these aren't familiar to American moviegoers, but anyone who knows about Japanese lore will know why these are all in this movie. And it's loads of fun to see them try to oust the outside that's infringing on their turf.
What makes this movie different from most period flicks is the sense of humor. The various spooks tend to bumble and make mistakes (including getting sucked into an enspelled jar), before finally taking on a hundred-foot-tall Daimon. And the dialogue tends to be kind of wacky, at least (there's a special "Monsters Social Register" book).
Since this movie was made in the 1960s, there are a lot of rubber suits -- Daimon looks like a rubber dinosaur, and a lot of the spooks have papier-mache heads. And I won't get into that one-legged umbrella. But the actors do a good job with odd body language (like the kappa's flailing and crouching), and the humans even get some cool swordfights.
"Yokau Monsters - Spook Warfare" lives up to its name, with plenty of Japanese monsters and goofy antics. A charming cult film.
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