Review: Yokai Monsters – 100 Monsters (1968)

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When I reviewed the first Yokai Monsters film, Spook Warfare, I mentioned that it wasn’t nearly as good as Daimajin.  Well, imagine my surprise when I saw that the second Yokai Monsters feature was directed by none other than Kimiyoshi Yasuda, the director of the first Daimajin movie, and was written by Daimajin scribe Tetsuro Yoshida.  Their hands are clearly evident in this second Yokai movie, and they crafted a sequel that’s much better than the original.

This time around, the villain isn’t supernatural in nature – he’s your run of the mill, overly ambitious daimyo.  If there is a failing to the film, it’s this overused convention.  The evil daimyo schemes to raze a local shrine and nearby tenement housing in order to make some fat cash, but he comes up against some angry villagers and the Yokai monsters in the process.  The simple plot structure, with clearly drawn good guys and bad guys, is perfect for a children’s film.  Yes, this second Yokai movie is much more mature than the first, but it’s still a kid’s movie at heart.

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The performances are all top notch and you’ll notice the usual stable of Daiei actors hard at work here.  I don’t think there’s a single face in this film that I hadn’t seen before, and that’s a good thing.  I was a little uncomfortable with the goofy rendering of the simpleminded (read – mentally retarded) character but that’s more a sign of the times than a slam at the actor’s performance.

I especially liked how the monsters were used more judiciously this time around.  Less is more when you’re dealing with practical effects.  The creatures work better this time around because you don’t see very much of them until the end of the show.  When they do appear, they’re either truly frightening (the long-necked woman, rokurokubi) or deliberately goofy (our old friend the kasa-obake umbrella).  The appearance of the long-necked woman is ingeniously executed and serves as a reminder of how great practical effects can be.

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At the film’s climax, the monsters overstay their welcome a bit.  The big showdown between the monsters and the evil daimyo turns out to be a slow-mo sword fight that drags on and on.  I understand that the logistics of having the monsters engage in real combat at speed would be a problem, but this battle gets boring pretty quickly, especially after it’s shown that the monsters can’t be injured.

The visuals by veteran cinematographer Yasukazu Takemura are beautiful, even on the washed out transfer I saw.  He borrows liberally from Daimajin’s color palette for the more fantastic scenes, while keeping the action in the feudal village well rooted in reality.  IMDB lists this as his final feature, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not since IMDB often omits more obscure foreign titles.  Sadly, I was unable to find any other biographical references to Mr. Takemura.  It’s a pity because he did some truly excellent work, including shooting several Sleepy Eyes of Death pictures.  I’d like to know why his resume stopped short at 23 films when many cinematographers from that time period went on to shoot 150 or 200 films.

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100 Monsters is a better picture than Spook Warfare, but it’s still a simple, feudal-era fairy tale.  Recommended for those of you who enjoy both Zatoichi AND HR Pufnstuff.  You know who you are.

PS – While the bulk of the film does revolve around the human characters, I’ve deliberately left out most of the monsters from the images for this review in the hopes that you’ll be surprised by them when you see the film for yourself.

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