Greetings from the Edge!
This time on the Edge, we’ll be watching the second in the Yokai trilogy, Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare, and while the first movie was a moody little Japanese period drama built around ghost storie,s the second film gets real weird really fast! Let’s see how they took this ghostly series from old Edo Japan to ancient Ur in Iraq and back to period Japan in about five minutes. With this second installment, we change directors from Kimiyoshi Yasuda of Zatoichi fame to Yoshiyuki Kuroda, best known for working on Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, nine episodes of the Zatoichi tv series, and well… Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare.
The movie begins in Iraq where a vampiric demon named Daimon is imprisoned where two tomb robbers looting the ruins of the ancient city of Ur find an entrance in the base of the remains of a giant statue. After digging, they find a axe-bladed staff and release Daimon, who travels across the world and ends up in Japan where a local magistrate, one of his samurai, and his daughter are fishing by the sea. Daimon’s arrival is presaged by the coming of an ominous storm.
The magistrate sends his daughter and vassal home while he makes a last patrol of his domain before turning in. Unfortunately for him, Daimon battles and then possesses the body of the defeated magistrate. Daimon uses the magistrate’s visage to infiltrate his household and begins destroying all the household’s shrines and religious paraphernalia, converting the magistrate’s lieutenant into a vampiric servant and generally being an all around bad tourist.
Soon a Kappa ( water sprite ) that lives in the magistrate’s pond figures out that he’s been replaced by Daimon and confronts him in a pretty one-sided battle that leaves our resident turtle man homeless. Fleeing to the temple of small spirits, the Kappa, after some unsuccessful attempts to convince the rest of Japan’s Yokai, manages to mobilize them against Daimon and, with the help of a loyal samurai and his Shinto priest uncle, set about battling the immortal evil from Iraq.
I hate to say it, but the effects in Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare just aren’t as well done as in the first movie in the series. There are a couple of interesting effects, and some of the transformations are well done for the late ’60s, but nothing really impressed me as much as the moody ghost story like effects in Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters. Daimon the Ur demon actually does have a pretty good ancient Middle Eastern feel mixing elements of both bird and reptile. So I’ll give them points for reaching outside the standard Japanese bestiary of creatures to include something new.
There is a pretty fun effect in the last battle with Daimon where he grows to giant size and the Yokai on the ground are battling a set of huge feet and legs while the flying Yokai assault Daimon’s face. It’s clear that the legs and feet are being moved by stagehands on a scaffold, but when you can’t get a laugh out of a small army of men in monster suits attacking what looks like the giant feet of Big Bird in a battle royale, what’s left really?
After being told that Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare was going to be significantly sillier than the first installment in the series, I was ready for something more akin to a children’s film. What I got was a classic vampire story interspaced with brief moments of levity. Daimon moves into the magistrate’s house and begins to feed off his servants before moving onto the children in the local village, Y’know, for kids!
The Yokai can be cute and funny but when the Shinto priest immolates, Daimon turns kids into snacks, and and eyes start getting poked out, it kinda leaves the realm of children’s entertainment. Sadly, it doesn’t really have enough substance to make an adult picture, so that leaves Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare in the very narrow margin of adolescent film.
Best line of the Movie!: After getting sealed into a jar with a holy script, “You Suck, Buddha! It was just getting good and you trapped us in here!”
Unless you really like old horror movies or Japanese folklore, I can’t really recommend Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare. It’s far too light to be a good horror film and not really funny enough to watch just for its sporadic humor. It does have some fun old school effects, a decent story, and the samurai and the magistrate’s daughter are sympathetic characters. The Yokai are appropriately silly at times and, when they are being harmlessly frightening, the movie is at its best. However, unless it hits your specific cultural/movie sweet spot, the best way to view Spook Warfare is with a bunch of friends and some frosty drinks. For everyone else, I’d say watch the 1987 film The Monster Squad from the same director as the campy horror classic Night of the Creeps. It has everything that Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare has along with a dose of ’80s nostalgia, better effects, and more quotable moments than you can shake a Stallone at!
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I know that this movie was made to capitalize on some of the leftover costumes from the first Yokai movie. Especially seeing as this was actually made in the same year as Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters. What I’d like to know is, why a demon from ancient Iraq? You’d think that there are plenty of evil monsters in Japanese mythology ( and trust me there are! ) I’d say that it was riding on the fame of The Exorcist but that film wouldn’t be released for another five years!
Daimon acts just like a classic European vampire, moving into a locality and slowly draining the life out of a community. Classic vampires are more about spreading death and despair ( and disease, classic vampires are kinda nasty ) rather than sparkling and stalking moody uninteresting teens. It just makes me wonder, why have the vampire from ancient Ur and not just have Yokai Monsters: Yokai versus Dracula? I can’t help but think that would’ve moved more tickets.
Come back to the Edge next week for the finale of the Yokai trilogy, Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts. An old man is killed on sacred ground by two warring Yakuza factions and now it’s up to the Yokai to see that his spirit is avenged. So bring on the silliness and the practical effects and let’s see if we can get some chills to go with our thrills in the penultimate installment to the series!