Miike does it again! Just when you think you've got this guy figured out, he does something different and somehow makes it his own. THE GREAT YOKAI WAR is a fantasy movie in the same vein as NEVERENDING STORY, DARK CRYSTAL, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, LOTR, and LABYRINTH. However, by successfully integrating Japanese folklore and contemporary stylization, something new and fresh is created. While there is no overly didactic messages, elements of anti-consumerism and environmentalism are hinted at. Essentially the themes are as simple as believing in yourself and the magic of childhood.
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 (a kirin) at a festival, he is told by the local kids that he is now the Kirin Rider. Takashi takes the duty seriously as it becomes more evident throughout the film that this folklore is true. Soon enough this kid (who's a very good actor, by the way) is up to his chin in monsters and adventure! He teams up with a motley crew of spooks and weirdos (including the rock star of yokai, the KAPPA), gets an awesome sword, fights robots, and saves Tokyo from the forces of evil.
One of the greatest things about the film is the inventiveness of the yokai costumes themselves. All kinds of masks, suits, makeup, puppets, prosthetics, and digital effects are used to create an epic rouges gallery of monsters. Miike always works with great physical effects artists and designers. Also, 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 theater that both children and adults can get lost in. There are a few small scenes that might be a little on the scary side for very small kids, but overall this is a very colorful and light-hearted fantasy film. I'm glad this genre is making a comeback (MIRRORMASK comes to mind), and I'm happy to see that Takashi Miike dove right in there and gave us this gem.