Last week I promised that I’d devote the next few weeks to some of my own favorite films from 1968. Unfortunately various obligations continue to get in the way of my writing but today I thought I’d share some thoughts about two of my favorite Japanese monster movies made in 1968, 100 Monsters aka Yôkai hyaku monogatari and Yokai Monsters – Spook Warfare aka Yôkai daisensô. Both films were released the same year and a third Yokai Monster film called Yokai Monsters – Along With Ghosts aka Tôkaidô obake dôchû was later released in 1969. All three films make up an extremely entertaining trilogy of fantasy films based on Japanese folklore and legends.
Yokai (or Yōkai) are a type of Japanese ghost, demon or monster with supernatural powers. They can be fun loving and mischievous or downright evil. In the 1960s the renowned manga artist Shigeru Mizuki modernized many Japanese folktales in his comic book series Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro and in the process he introduced a new generation of Japanese youth to the wonderful world of the Yokai Monsters. At the time many Japanese were rediscovering their heritage and history following the aftermath of WWII and Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro became extremely popular with Japanese children and adults. The popularity of Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro led to a wider interest in Japanese folklore and the Daiei Motion Picture Company took this opportunity to create a series of films based on classic Yokai Monster tales.
The three films in Daiei’s monster trilogy feature incredible color photography and innovative special effects for the time. Horror fans will find that these films contain some genuinely creepy moments that are often highlighted by composer Sei Ikeno’s eerie score. But directors Kimiyoshi Yasuda and Yoshiyuki Kuroda also injected the Yokai Monster movies with plenty of humor as well. The light-hearted touches and fantasy elements found in these films make them appealing to children as well as adults. Much like the Sinbad movies that featured creative special effects by Ray Harryhausen, the Yokai Monster films can be enjoyed by anyone with a sense of adventure and a healthy imagination.
Besides being extremely entertaining and full of creative visual effects, the films also manage to offer viewers insight into the myths and legends of Japan that many westerners are probably unfamiliar with. There are literally a hundred different types of Yokai Monsters, but I’m particularly fond of the Rokurokubi (aka “long-neck women”) who have the ability to stretch their necks to ridiculous lengths. In the Yokai films the Rokurokubi is played by the lovely Japanese actress Ikuko Môri who’s probably most well-known for her roles in numerous Zatoichi movies. I haven’t been able to find much information about her but I think she does a wonderful job of being both menacing and seductive in the Yokai films she appears in. (Note: The small illustrated picture of a Rokurokubi is from the box of a vintage Japanese Yokai Monster model kit I bought when I was in Japan in 2001).
Japanese director Takeshi Miike (The Bird People in China, Audition, Ichi the Killer, Gozu, etc.) was a fan of the Yokai films when he was growing up and in 2005 he released his own film version of a Yokai Monster tale called The Great Yokai War aka Yôkai daisensô. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as the original films, I still found it really entertaining and it was great to see the director make a horror/fantasy film that can be enjoyed by adults and kids.
All the original Yokai Monster movies mentioned above have been released in a DVD collection from ADV Films and they’re currently available from Amazon for only $17.99. You can also find the movies for rent at Netflix and Greencine.