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 third film in the series, Along with Ghosts, but stay tuned for more reviews for the rest of the series.
ALONG WITH GHOSTS (1969)
Directors: Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Yoshiyuki Kuroda
Notable Cast: Pepe Hozumi, Masami Burukido, Toura Sakiichi, Yoshito Yamaji, Bokuzen Hidari, Kojiro Hongo
After bouncing through the second film of the series, Spook Warfare, with all of its comedic elements and humorous and heartfelt yokai monster chemistry, the third film Along with Ghosts causes some significant whiplash. While all three films lean into the period set horror-tinged supernatural basics, this third and last (of this original run) of the series finds itself as the most cohesive and cinematically sound in its storytelling. It may not feature nearly as many yokai as the previous entry - or, quite honestly, as the first film, but it makes up for it by being a better film.
When a young girl witnesses some criminal activity, an assassination unfortunately committed on sacred spiritual ground, she is sent to find her wayward gambling father before the assassins find her to make sure she doesn’t blab. With the help of a young boy, a righteous swordsman, and some pissed-off spirits looking to find those who desecrated their grounds, the little girl has a chance to survive.
If the first film had a half-baked anthology approach to its material and the second film pitted spook against spook, this film essentially combines the best parts of the two into a lightning-paced story that would have been solid even without the additions of the yokai. Perhaps this is because the directors of the first two films, Kimiyoshi Yasuda and Yoshiyuki Kuroda, team up to direct Along with Ghosts. The results speak for themselves.
The biggest fix for the series is that the main human story is littered with intrigue, some dynamic characters for both heroes and villains, and a fun structuring that feels like a chase film. Using a young girl in peril might be a relatively quick, shorthanded way of earning the audience’s hearts and creating a sense of urgency, but for this film, it works and there’s enough weight to the performances to carry it. As mentioned, this film effectively works on its own as a fun chanbara flick even without the supernatural elements and this is the main reason why it’s far more effective throughout.
Now, the biggest choice that Along with Ghosts makes that may lose some viewers is the lacking screen time of the yokai. Although there are a handful of moments with the yokai, including a fun flaming, flying head sequence the usual spirits on ghostly parade, it’s mostly relegated to being one of three sets of characters in the film and it’s not until the third act that they fully come into play. As with the other films of this time period (and this series specifically) the yokai are creatively made by a combination of special effects, men in rubber suits, and some in-camera visual trickery. Gone are most of the humorous characters from previous films like the water imp or the umbrella creature and the ones that show up here are far scarier than expected. A couple of the yokai are down-right nightmarish and it fits in with the serious tones and darker concepts of its main plot. The lack of screen time will make some viewers feel let down, but when they arrive, they make a statement.
To wrap up this initial trilogy contained in the Yokai Monsters Collection box set from Arrow Video, Along with Ghosts maintains a strong sense of purpose and delivers on the two parallel storytelling devices with the most cohesion between the two. It’s a strong film on its own with some solid action set pieces and great emotional stakes. The yokai portions ably add to the sense of urgency and threat on hand for the characters without detracting too much from the pacing and adding in some impressive spice to the mix.