The Yokai Monsters of 1968

Yôkai hyaku monogatari aka 100 Monsters (1968)

Last week I promised that I’d devote the next few weeks to some of my 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 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 in English 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.

12 thoughts on “The Yokai Monsters of 1968

  1. Well that simply looks like one of the coolest monster movies ever made! I moved that thing right to the top of my queue and was so happy to see it was available on Netflix in the first place. Damn, I can hardly wait to see it!

  2. Thanks Kimberly! I’d heard of these movies after watching Miike’s film (which was fine, but didn’t quite grab me) and then kinda forgot about them.

    After viewing that trailer I went to and there they were – all three listed at about $23 a piece. But there was another item found in the search – the Complete Collection. All three films for, wait for it, $18!

    They’re being shipped to me tomorrow…B-)

  3. Jonathan – I hope you like the movies when you see them! They’re a lot of fun and since you have kids, you can enjoy them with the whole family. Since you’re a fan of vintage horror and sci-fi films so I think you’ll find these really interesting.

    Peter – It sort of depends on the age of your nephew and if he can read (or is willing) to read subtitles. Unfortunately the original films are only available with subtitles but Miike’s movie (The Great Yokai War) has been released with subtitles AND an English language track so kids can enjoy it dubbed. I think if a kid enjoyed Monster Club he would also get a kick out of The Great Yokai War.

    Bob – I think you’d probably like the original films more but I thought Miike’s film was a fun movies, especially for kids. And thanks for the tip about the new DVD collection! I searched around on Amazon myself and was surprised to discover that ADV had released a set of the films in July of this year for such a great price. I’ve added the info to my post and I plan to pick up a couple copies of the DVD sets myself for xmas gifts. It’s a great deal!

  4. I saw that movie several years ago at the L’estrange festival in Paris!

    It was great mostly to talk about it to people afterward about the umbrella with the tongue hanging out.

    Thanks for reminding me about it!


  5. Hey Kimberly. Great write-up. These movies sound awesome. I love monster movies. Nobody does them quite like the Japanese. I’m definitely going to have to get these from Netflix. Thanks for just a cool and interesting post.

  6. I have a couple of these in my library and they’re great fun. I love anything from this era, where the studio-bound nature of the production actually accentuates the level of fantasy. (I feel the same about Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, whose village rooftops look like a backdrop borrowed from a production of La Boheme.) I would also recommend the Majin films, which aren’t about assorted demons but a giant stone protector of rural Japan back in the feudal days of yore.

  7. Pink – Glad I could help recall your memory of the movie!

    Keith – Thanks! I know you enjoy Japanese monster movies so I think you’d get a kick out of these.

    Arbogast – There is a level of surrealism added to a lot of films when they’re shot in a studio. The director has much more control over the lighting, etc. The Daimajin films are terrific too. They’re a Japanese version of the Jewish Golem myth but really well done. Daiei produced those film as well and the first film in the series was directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda who was also involved in the Yokai movies.

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