Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare
|Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare|
Front cover of the 2003 ADV Films DVD release
|Directed by||Kuroda Yoshiyuki|
|Produced by||Yamato Yashiro|
|Screenplay by||Tetsurô Yoshida|
|Based on||Folk tales of Momotarō, and The Great Yokai War by Mizuki Shigeru|
|Music by||Sei Ikeno (as Shigeru Ikeno)|
|Edited by||Toshio Taniguchi|
|Distributed by||Daiei International Films|
|1 hr 19 min (79 min)|
Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (Japanese: 妖怪大戦争 Hepburn: Yōkai Daisensō, lit. The Great Yōkai War), a.k.a. Ghosts on Parade, is a 1968 Japanese horror/fantasy film directed by Kuroda Yoshiyuki. It is the second in a trilogy of films produced in the late 1960s, all of which focus around traditional Japanese monsters known as yokai. The film was made in Fujicolor and Daieiscope.
There were originally three movies made:
- Yokai Monsters: One Hundred Monsters (1968) released in March
- Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968) released in December
- Yokai Monsters: Along With Ghosts (1969) released in March
The film opens in the ruins of the Babylonian city of Ur, with a narration detailing a local legend pertaining to a great monster known as Daimon, who lays dormant in the rubble of the city. Four thousand years later, the ruins are disturbed by treasure hunters and the monster Daimon (Chikara Hashimoto) is roused and proceeds to kill the intruders by causing a landslide. Following his release, Daimon decides to fly directly to Japan. There, he encounters a samurai known as Lord Hyogo Isobe (Takashi Kanda), whom he kills and whose blood he consumes. Following this vampiric act, Daimon assumes the form of Isobe and makes his way to the lord's house. There he is met by Isobe's daughter, Lady Chie (Akane Kawasaki) and fellow samurai Shinpachiro Mayama (Yoshihiko Aoyama). After killing the family dog for barking at him, Daimon proceeds to tear down all altars in the house and orders his servants to have them burned. In his frenzy, he throws out an ornament which falls into a pond outside, rousing a kappa (Gen Kuroki). The kappa decides to investigate the ruckus and happens to see Daimon (as Isobe) drinking the blood of Isobe's steward, Saheiji Kawano (Gen Kimura). When Saheiji also displays Daimon's mannerisms and orders the altars burned, the kappa becomes suspicious and attacks Daimon fruitlessly. Defeated and hurt, the kappa goes to the woods to seek out other yōkai to help him fight back Daimon. The forest is home to the one-legged Kasa-obake, the frightening Futakuchi-onna (Keiko Yukitomo), the long-necked Rokurokubi (Ikuko Mori), the clay monster Nuppeppō and the wise Abura-sumashi. The yōkai do not believe the kappa's story, as they insist such a monster has never been found in Japan, citing a field guide and a coloring book about yōkai. Meanwhile, Lady Chie and Shinpachiro find the maid Shinobu (Hiromi Inoue), who has fallen victim to Daimon's vampirism. Shinpachiro decides to consult his uncle, a priest, who informs him that Lord Isobe is in fact dead and that some demon is masquerading as him. The priest gives Shinpachiro three candles to be placed around the room in which the demon is sitting while the priest chants destruction prayers in order to destroy the demon. While Shinpachiro sets up the candles correctly, Daimon manages to kill the priest by reversing his destructive magic. Daimon announces to Saheiji that he thirsts for younger blood than is afforded him at the house and so goes out looking for children with his retainers. The entourage attacks a local family, but not before the parents manage to slip their children out the back door. The parents are killed and the retainers ordered to sweep the area to find the children. While the samurai search, the children bump into the kappa and the other yōkai, who have set up camp in a local "monster's shrine". Upon hearing of the attack, the yōkai realise their error and agree to help the kappa drive Daimon away.
After scaring off the retainers in the forest, the yōkai set their sights on attacking Daimon. Rokurokubi is the first to attack, winding her neck around Daimon like a hangman's noose. However, Daimon proves to be too strong for her and simply ties her neck into a knot. The other yōkai try to attack him to much the same effect. Meanwhile, Shinpachiro attempts to ward off the demon using a warded jar. This, however, backfires when it instead entraps the yōkai. When Shinpachiro manages to shoot Daimon in the eye, Daimon is forced to abandon Lord Isobe's body and flee. Saheiji continues to resist and Daimon intercepts the new Magistrate, Lord Iori Ohdate (Osamu Ohkawa) who was to be Lord Isobe's replacement. After drinking Ohdate's blood, Daimon assumes control of his body and returns to the house.
During this time, the yōkai remain trapped in the warded jar. In a fortunate turn, two of the yōkai not trapped in the jar - Futakuchi-onna and Kasa-obake - encounter the jar. While they are not able to free the monsters trapped inside by themselves, they are able to warn Shinpachiro about Saheiji. They make their way back to the house just in time to see Daimon (as Ohdate) give the order for Shinpachiro to be executed. Futakuchi-onna and Kasa-obake manage to convince Lady Chie to remove the ward keeping the yōkai trapped inside the jar so that they may be free to fight. Seeing that the yōkai have gotten free, Daimon creates half a dozen clones of himself in order to match their number. Just as the yōkai are on the verge of defeat, Kasa-obake returns with a large army of yōkai from all over Japan. Daimon continues to clone himself in order to match their numbers and the yōkai quickly realise that their only hope of victory is to remove the original Daimon's remaining eye. Daimon transforms himself into a giant, so Nuppeppō takes hold of Kasa-obake's leg as they float up to Daimon's face: stabbing him in the eye and defeating him once and for all. Following the yōkai's victory, Shinpachiro is released from captivity. The yōkai all return to their natural habitat, having defended their home from the invading Daimon.
Chikara Hashimoto as Daimon
Akane Kawasaki as Chie
Yoshihiko Aoyama as Shinhachiro
Takashi Kanda as Hyogo
Osamu Okawa as Iori
Keiko Yukitomo as the two-headed woman
Ikuko Mori as the long-necked monster
Gen Kuroki as the river monster
References to Japanese culture
As the title suggests, the film is largely focused around yōkai (妖怪, "strange things", "goblins"): strange mythological beings from Japanese folklore. This is in contrast to the other two films in the series, which were adaptations of period dramas in which the yōkai took a back seat to human actors. The yōkai are represented as playful and heroic, which is true of many yōkai found throughout Japan's history. However, yōkai such as Futakuchi-onna and Rokurokubi in particular are normally seen to be frightening creatures who are more often found in creepy kaidan (怪談, "strange stories") tales than children's movies.
The story of Spook Warfare shares many similarities with Mizuki Shigeru's GeGeGe no Kitarō (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎, Scary Kitarou) manga and anime series of the same name which was released around the same time. Academics also point out the film's inherent similarities to the story of Momotarō, who in folklore leads a group of native animals to reclaim the island of Kikaigashima from a group of demons who have overtaken it. The winning cry of "Japanese yōkai have won!" (日本の妖怪勝ったんやぞ！ Nippon no yōkai ga kattan ya zo!) can also be taken as an affirmation of pride for Japan's native culture. Other films, such as Isao Takahata's Pom Poko similarly follow this story of native monsters driving out invading forces.
Spook Warfare contains a significant roster of yōkai from many different sources. Some of the more notable ones are as follows:
||(Japanese: 河童, lit. "river-child".) With origins dating back to the year AD 379, Kappa are popular yōkai known to have appeared in print as early as 1713 in the Wakan Sansai Zue. Historically, these creatures were said to have been a significant threat to humans who went near their habitat, with author Terajima Ryōan stating that they had a particular liking for sumo and would often challenge people to wrestle. He also notes that the creature can be made immensely strong should any water be stored in its concave head, stating that this would make it "as strong as a warrior". These features are certainly shared by the kappa in the film, particularly when he attempts to bodily wrestle the physically intimidating Daimon towards the beginning of the film. The kappa also has a more threatening violent streak to its personality, folklorically being described as pulling children, adults, horses and cows into the water to drown them or even to consume their livers. However, the film's kappa is not as violent as his traditional counterpart, choosing only to act violently towards the invading monster. When confronted with the two orphaned children, the kappa is protective and ready to assist them in disbanding the retainers hunting them down.|
||(Japanese: 二口女, lit. "two-mouthed woman".) In Japanese mythology, Futakuchi-onna is a cursed woman who marries a local miser who is delighted by her apparent lack of appetite as it allows him to save money on food. Despite the woman's lack of appetite, the miser's food continues to deplete. Confused by this, he one day decides to stay at home after pretending to leave for work, that he may spy upon his wife. Following his apparent exit from the house, the woman's skull cracks open to reveal a second mouth, and her hair - once unbound - reaches out like tentacles and shovels rice into said orifice. In Spook Warfare, the more menacing aspects of Futakuchi-onna's origins are not addressed, and rather than a second mouth filled with sharp teeth there is instead a second face. In folklore, this yōkai is not known for its violence, but instead as a seemingly normal woman with a startling curse.|
||(Japanese 付喪神, lit. "artefact spirit".) Often considered a tsukumogami, the Kasa-obake is a haunted umbrella usually depicted as having one large eye and one leg. Little is written about the Kasa-obake, but it continues to be used as a symbol of haunting. Like most other Tsukumogami, the Kasa-obake is mostly harmless. However, there are examples of yōkai bearing similarities to the Kasa-obake being responsible for causing harm, such as one named Yūreigasa (Japanese: 幽霊傘, lit. "ghost umbrella"), who would blow people high into the sky on days of strong winds. The scene in which Kasa-obake floats up to Daimon's head while carrying Nuppeppō could be seen as an echoing of this legend.|
||(Japanese: 轆轤首, lit. "pulley neck" (referring to the pulley of a potter's wheel).) Like Futakuchi-onna, Rokurokubi is a cursed woman whose appearance is generally human, but whose curse causes disturbing distension of the neck. Rokurokubi is generally described as being harmless, but frightful: often a vengeful spirit seeking revenge for a discretion against them. The film stays relatively true to this depiction of Rokurokubi, keeping her a harmless character who uses her frightening neck-stretching as a humorous attack.|
||(Japanese: 油すまし, lit. "oil presser".) A regionally specific yōkai found only in Amakusa in Kumamoto prefecture, the Abura-sumashi is thought to be a reincarnated spirit of oil thieves who went unpunished in life. Historically unabashed by the presence of humans, the Abura-sumashi is known to partake in call and response with people who call out its name.In the film, the Abura-sumashi is depicted as the wise leader of the yōkai group, despite these traits not being based in any mythology.|
||(Japanese: ぬっぺっぽう, roughly translated as "a corruption of the slang for wearing too much makeup".) The Nuppeppō is a foul-smelling, genderless mass of flesh with an outline of a face creased into the folds of its fatty exterior. Despite smelling of decaying flesh, Nuppeppō is entirely harmless. It is said that should a person consume the flesh of Nuppeppō, they will achieve eternal life. In the film, Nuppeppō's passive nature is betrayed when it has to stab Daimon in the eye in order to win the battle.|
The film has received mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, holding a 6.5/10 score on the Internet Movie Database. Critics praised the film's special effects, but noted with some concern that the violence and frightful nature of the film directly clashed with its supposedly child-friendly tone. Andrew Pragasam noted that while "[there] is plenty of humour and monster fun, [the] horrific elements are remarkably potent for a family film, with gory violence, chills and suspense."  Online film critic James Rolfe compared the conflict between the film's light-hearted humour and its violence and use of curses to "watching Beauty and the Beast and one of the tea cups [gouging] out Belle's eye and [telling] her to go to hell." Reviewer Chris Sims downplayed the violent aspects of the film, however, stating that "[as] strange as the movie and its weird monsters might seem, when you get right down to it it’s no more bizarre than the fairy tales we’re all used to on this side of the Pacific, right down to our stories of cursed spinning wheels and hair-accessible towers, and really, the themes are just as universal."
Influence and Legacy
The costumes and puppets (many of which were produced for the first film) are some of the most recognisable realisations of traditional yōkai illustrations in cinema. The film has been the subject of numerous essays on the subject of yōkai and their role in modern media, with academics such as Zilia Papp and Michael Dylan Foster making reference to it in numerous publications.
In 2005, Takashi Miike remade the film as The Great Yokai War. The film borrowed numerous elements from the Yokai Monsters series as well as Mizuki Shigeru's Kitarō story of the same name. Mizuki himself even makes a cameo in the film.
The three 1960s films were released on Region 1 DVD by ADV Films in 2003. The second film, Spook Warfare, was released as a Region Free disc (although it says Region 3 on the cover) in Thailand by Lionheart Pictures with optional original Japanese audio and English subtitles. They are currently out of print.
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