After unleashing the Daimajin on collectors with their three-film box set only a handful of months ago, Arrow Video continue their Daiei run with the Yokai Monsters Collection. Complete with the original three film run of the Yokai Monster trilogy and auteur director Takashi Miike’s love letter to those films, this collection brings together four films that were not regularly available (if at all) to Western audiences. Whether you’re a fan of supernatural monster flicks, strange genre-bending slices of cinema, or Japanese film history, it’s hard to go wrong with this boxset as a collector.
The mileage that one gets from the films included in Yokai Monsters depends on their ability to roll with the shifting genres and a sense of artifice within their stories. This review covers the second film in the series, Spook Warfare, but stay tuned for more reviews for the rest of the series.
SPOOK WARFARE (1968)
Director: Yoshiyuki Kuroda
Notable Cast: Yoshihiko Aoyama, Akane Kawasaki, Takashi Kanda, Hideki Hanamura, Chikara Hashimoto, Hiromi Inoue, Mari Kanda, Gen Kimura
Although the first film in the Yokai Monsters series, 100 Monsters, told its story in full, that has never stopped a franchise from kicking forward. The first sequel, Spook Warfare, aims to take the same basic concept, people who accidentally unleash some classic mythological Japanese spirit monsters, and gives it a tonal and structural overhaul. The results are fascinatingly more entertaining as a whole and it easily fulfills the promises made with the title.
After the film opens with two guys accidentally unleashing a powerful bird-like monster who quickly kills and assumes the body of a Japanese lord, another yokai, a water imp, is ousted from his water home on the Lord’s property. This sets up the titular battle between spirits when the water imp gathers the other yokai from around the area to help battle the evil intruder and help save the humans and his home.
This second entry is now helmed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda, director of Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell, although I’m not sure you would know that just from the look and feel of the two films, but the change of director does show. The biggest difference between films is that while there is still that atmospheric feel of its shadowy sets and it leans into its surrealistic spooks, this one is far more comedic than its predecessor and focuses on the yokai rather than the human characters as the main protagonists. Considering most of the issues that had arisen from the seriousness and focus on the human plot of the predecessor, these changes come as a welcome maneuver for most viewers. All these yokai films are entertaining, but this one is the most entertaining.
The change in tone and focus on the yokai monsters is that Spook Warfare gets to showcase a slew of different creatures and deliver tons of goofy spectacle. As with the first film, the effects are a rather acquired taste as the use of costumes, layered visuals effects, and in camera tricks to fool the audience all feature a level of artifice that might be too much. However, for a 1968 flick, so much of that material is ambitious. Particularly when the yokai are now the main focus of the film. It may seem silly by today’s standards, but the effect is perfectly in tune with the tone and feeling of the film.
Naturally, the focus on the hodge podge group of outcasts trying to thwart off a powerful intruder is not wholly original, but Spook Warfare does an admirable job at making the audience feel for the spirits and their plight. The fun quips and relationships between the key members of the group is silly and lighthearted so that when they find themselves needing the help of the human characters (which are very thin as characters and plotting, for the record) the escalating use of effects and the threat of consequence builds some decent tension. Not that it was a question whether they would succeed but seeing them figure out how to defeat the intruder was the most entertaining part. I never thought I would be cheering for a relatively annoying water imp, but here we are.
Spook Warfare is not the loftiest of Japanese cinema nor does it even contain some of the more interesting layers that the first one did, but that’s not the point. This film is far more aligned with delivering its enjoyable characters, their relationships with one another, and adding in goofy spectacle in full. If anything, it’s hard not to enjoy this one for outlandishness of it all.