Also known as the Big Spook War. The Great Yokai War is Miikes attempt at a family film and damn fine job he does as well. The problem is that I cant imagine many parents wanting to subject their children to this movie. The best kids movies are the ones that are scary or have mildly disturbing imagery, Neverending Story and Return to Oz spring to mind, but in the case of the Great Yokai War Miike probably takes things a little too far. In fact at the screening I was at the person introducing the movie reiterated to the two families there that it was probably not very suitable.
The film kicks off with the young hero of the piece introducing himself and explaining about his current family problems. This brief moment of mundanity is sharply broken as a cow gives birth to a calf with the face of a human whom screams that something horrendous is coming before falling dead like the abomination it is (it is quite possible that the sheer hideousness of the creature is some bizarre Quato homage).
Following an incredible introduction for main baddie Kato, and his henchwoman Agi (a surprisingly attractive Chiaki Kuriyami), by way of an apocalyptic army raising. The story reverts to normal for a while, but it doesnt take long before any and all logic goes down the drain and the young boy teams up with a group of Miyazaki rejects to take out the evil sorcerer.
The plot of the movie is fairly basic and surprisingly hackneyed at times, the entire chosen one just seems completely out of place in a movie which so regularly breaks clichés, but is aided by a simple awe inspiring vision of a magical world. This really is a Miyazaki movie made into a live action movie, albeit a much seedier and more vicious than usual Miyazaki movie.
The film is simply a joy to look at the designs of the Yokai is colourful, and largely practical, while the evil robotic monstrosities while not displaying the best CGI in the world have a practicality and menace to them which gives them far more of a palpable threat than you would imagine.
The cast is uniformly excellent, they just make their characters seem perfectly natural which is commendable when you consider that most of them are in full body makeup or latex suits. Even Agi lumbered with a ridiculous beehive comes across as sultry and deadly thanks to surprisingly excellent acting from Kuriyami.
While the film does have many elements which put it firmly into family movie territory; cute creatures, junior heroes, a thoroughly evil villain, a sense of mischief and adventure, and a telling lack of violence. There are elements which make you question whether Miike should have directed such a movie.
The robot army is a genuinely terrifying menace everyday items warped into monstrous beasts that look like T-101 sans skin and with added chainsaws. These beasts rip characters to pieces; suck creatures into their blood stained mouths, and abduct children from their homes by swiping them right from under their parents nose before indulging in a little patricide.
The creation of the creature is equally arduous for young minds. The Yokai, essentially the heroes, are feed into a giant furnace full of a liquidised form of hate which corrodes the Yokais flesh and forces their angry souls to possess lumps of metal. If kids thought smouldering Anakin was bad wait til they see a man sized hedgehog burning to death in a vat of molten hatred for a minute before being turned into an abomination of a motorcycle. There is also limb severing, in one case a severed hand twitches in front of the camera dripping with blood, a fair amount of sexual energy (Agi wears one dress designed specifically for fan service and seems to only have sleeping with Kato as motivation, while the Princess of the Rivers wears next to nothing and gets her thighs groped by the young hero in several scenes), and general humour which will go right over the heads of the audience that this technicolour wonder was seemingly designed for.
At the end of the day The Great Yokai War is easily on of Miikes stronger recent films. While it lacks some of the perverse charm of say Gozu or Ichi it is just continually pushing the audience down a road of general insanity. In fact this is easily Miikes most deranged movie in that he embraces the sheer magic of the subject so wholeheartedly.
Well worth a watch just for the occasional flash of Gogo arse.