Greetings from the Edge!
Today we’ll be taking a look at the third of the Yokai Monsters trilogy, Along with Ghosts. The first Yokai movie was a ghost story and the second was a vampire film. The third goes back to the series’ roots with ghosts aplenty, however this time it’s also a road movie and a Yakuza ( Japanese gangsters ) drama. So let’s see if this climax of the Yokai trilogy can also get away with mashing up three genres, or if too many tropes spoil the plot!
We open on a lonely mountain shrine where a bunch of Yakuza enter to set up an ambush for a rival who has procured dirt on the local Oyabun ( mob boss, basically. ) They come across an old man who is the Onizuka ( shrine guardian ) and he attempts to warn them away from spilling blood on sacred ground, especially seeing on this night of the year, not only the local spirits but also the spirits of the deep mountains and the swamps are gathered at the shrine.
Soon the Yakuza’s victims stumble into the ambush and the Oyabun, his men, and his Yojimbo ( bodyguard ), a ronin, kill their targets and fatally wound the old shrine keeper. They dump the bodies in the nearby swamp and discover that the document they set out to capture has fallen into the hands of a little girl, Miyo, who is the granddaughter of the shrine keeper.
Before succumbing to his wounds, the shrine keeper gives his granddaughter a pair of special dice and instructions on how to find her father miles away along the Yokaido road. Now as the Yakuza pursue the little girl along the road, they themselves are being hunted by the restless spirits they have offended. Miyo will meet a good-hearted Yakuza, a kind boy, a dopey but helpful Sumo, and a brash maid before solving the mystery of her unknown father and the Yokai finally extract their vengeance.
As far as special effects go, Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts is definitely the weakest of the series. In fact, the effects are few and far between, mainly consisting of makeup effects and a few setting and practical effects, along with some composition shots for the ghosts.
We do get a couple of reused costumes from the first movie, but if you were hoping for the return of the Kappa, the snake-necked woman or any of the other familiar Yokai characters, you’ll be sadly disappointed. Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts is pretty much just ghosts, which makes more sense when you know that in Japan, the film was titled Journey with Ghost Along Yokaido Road ( No plurals in Japanese, remember. )
I also wanted to mention the use of the Theremin in the music of Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts. I know I’ve talked about the Theremin on the Edge before but, for any lover of classic sci-fi and horror, it will surely bring a stab of nostalgia to your heart. The Theremin is an electronic musical instrument played by passing your hands through a field produced by the instrument, invoking haunting tones. If you’ve ever wondered what makes those weird sounds in all the old ’50s sci-fi movies, it’s the Theremin.
Here is an example of Leonard Theremin himself playing his iconic instrument:
And here is something a bit more contemporary to give a better example of the Theremin at work with Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, “The Ecstasy of Gold” :
While Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts does go back to the series’ roots in ghost stories, it really suffers from a lack of… well, Yokai! The iconic Japanese spirits make few actual appearances in the film and I can’t help but think that’s going to ruin the experience for a lot of viewers who came back to see the Yokai. Especially after the all out Yokai war from the last film. We don’t even get an appearance by the Umbrella monster, and he’s kinda the series mascot.
This movie is far more a Yakuza drama than anything else, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Yokai mainly show up as spectral images and illusions much more like the first film. Very seldom have I seen a trilogy of films that are so diametrically opposed to each other while still fitting roughly into the same genre. I’d love to know some more on the background on how these movies came to be. While they are billed as a trilogy, I think viewers would be better served if the fact that the films are very much an anthology with little to nothing to do with each other was more upfront.
Well kiddies, this one is going to pretty tough to give a recommendation on. See, I really enjoyed Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts, but I don’t know if anyone else would. In fact, I liked this one much more than the second film, Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare. It was moody and light at the same time, it managed to pull off several child performances done pretty well, the Yokai haunting the evil Yakuza Oyabun and his men was well done, and I love just about anything that Yasuda has a hand in directing.
But, and this is a big “but,” I think for most people this is going to be too little Yokai, too much period drama. Too much of a kids film for adults and way too spooky for little kids. So let me say this: if you like Japanese period dramas, Yakuza flicks, and kids on screen don’t automatically make you run for the hills, give Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised. For everyone else, stick with the first film, and if you like that maybe give some of Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s other movies a try. If that floats your boat, come back to Yokai Monsters: Along with Ghosts later and you might get more out of it.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I have to wonder why the effects level took such a nosedive from the first two films. The absence of the more familiar Yokai from the first two movies almost makes me think that something happened to the costumes in the year between the second and third films.
Also, it’s strange to see that the film was a directorial collaboration between Yoshiyuki Kuroda and Kimiyoshi Yasuda, the directors of the second and first films in the Yokai series respectively. I can really feel Yasuda coming through, so much so that I kept expecting to see Zatoichi star Shintarô Katsu pop up in the background. I can’t seem to find out what lead to this dual directing of the film, but if one of you knowledgeable reader happens to have the skinny, drop me a line or leave the story in the comments so we can all know.
Next week, we’ll be embracing the season here on the Edge as we take a look at the very Terry Pratchett Christmas special, Hogfather. When the Disc World’s Santa equivalent is knocked out of action by nefarious magic, Death has to step in and keep the world believing in the Hogfather or risk the sun never rising again. Along with his intrepid granddaughter Susan, the wizards of the Unseen University, and his irascible assistant Albert, can Death foil the malevolent machinations of the Auditors to finally force the universe to make sense? Join us next time on the Edge to find out!