Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts is the third Yokai Monsters picture and I’d argue that it’s the weakest of the three. In this film, the yokai are relegated to the background. Yes, they do take action but they do so mainly as a group. The interesting individualism of the kappa and the kasa-obake umbrella monster from the first film is nowhere to be found here. The monsters here could just as easily been a ninja clan hiding out in the mountains.
YM3 had two directors, if we’re to believe the credits. The great Kimiyoshi Yasuda of Daimajin and Yokai 2 fame is one. The other is Yoshiyuki Kuroda who directed the first Yokai picture. There has to be a story behind their pairing, but I’ve been unable to unearth it. You might think that a film helmed by two directors would suffer, and you’d be right.
This time around the plot centers around a seven year old girl whose screen time isn’t commensurate with her acting ability. There’s a bevvy of familiar Daiei day players on the roster and I’d rather see them, but the story follows the girl. At any rate, the little girl’s grandfather is killed near a shrine he tends to. The men who kill him are out to protect a document that proves their misdeeds. The little girl obtains the document and runs off, leading to 70 minutes of the yakuza looking for her. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but that’s the basic premise. Yes, there’s a ronin itching for a fight and there’s a good-hearted samurai who tries to protect the child. There’s also a boy who can’t act and who’s given way too many lines. Blah blah blah. Where the hell are the yokai in all of this?
The best part of the film is the third act, if you make it that far. The evil daimyo forces the little girl to play dice for the life of her estranged father while the good-guy samurai and the random boy look to rescue her. The scenes are filled with tension and there’s the added mystery of the origin of the dice used in the game. It all adds up to an interesting sequence. It’s too bad more of the film isn’t this good.
To be fair, the yokai do show up from time to time in their transparent, ghostly forms but they have very little to do and they’re incredibly difficult to see. That’s the other big problem with this film – the ADV Films DVD I saw has one of the worst transfers I’ve ever seen. The picture is muddy and vague with muted colors and low detail. It’s dark and dingy – the last thing you want for your monster movie! Cinematographer Hiroshi Imai did top notch work on over 40 other features so I’m inclined to blame the transfer. Perhaps I’d have enjoyed the movie more if it hadn’t been so hard to watch.
In the end, though, this one was hard to watch. It centers on child actors who can’t act, lacks a compelling story, and has monsters that are either absent or hard to see. Much like The Wrath of Daimajin (the one that focuses on the group of kids), it isn’t terrible, but it’s the worst of the trilogy. It’s unusual for me not to remember the characters’ names, but these characters were so generic that I simply didn’t care. The only one I cared about at all was the old man who guarded the shrine, and he died in the first few minutes of the movie! Sadly, this one is not recommended.