This is another one of those big budget fantasy films which got a limited theatrical release in the US. Unfortunately the decision to release it here was not the exactly the best one, since one of the main appeals of the story is that it's built on a number of references to Japanese pop culture that most Westerners probably aren't terribly familiar with. The whole production is intended as a homage to the works of Shigeru Mizuki, the great manga artist most known for his work on Yokai-related studies and fantasy stories. The plot involves a young boy getting caught in the middle of a magical war between the good Yokai (representing characters from Mizuki's works) and the evil Yokai, led by none other than Yasunori Kato (the villain of the novel TEITO MONOGATARI or the anime DOOMED MEGALOPOLIS). There are more references here and there. For example, Tortoro from MY NEIGHBOR TORTORO is one of the good Yokai (and yes, this is the probably the only time viewers will ever be able to see Yasunori Kato and Tortoro in one film together). At one point Kato summons an enormous flying monster to invade Tokyo with, which one drunk onlooker sees and cries out "Hey, don't worry! It's Gamera!" (in reference to Daiei's giant monster movies of the same name).
You can see the problem here...with so many references to Japanese pop culture, something's going to get lost in translation. How many of Shigeru Mizuki's works have been translated into English? Not too many, and that includes the GeGeNoKitaro series (which the film HEAVILY references). The background of the villain Yasunori Kato (played by Etsushi Toyokawa) is never clearly explored. But a fan like me knows you can get more info about the character by reading the novels he originated from. Has TEITO MONOGATARI or any of its spinoffs have been translated into English? No. Can you see the problem here?
Still Miike's directorial abilities shine bright. It is a visually spectacular film as well as an incredibly fun one. i'm just frustrated that once again, English speakers are being given a product which skeptical viewers will be denied many answers about.
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Sep 22, 2012
May 22, 2013 04:03 AM UTC
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The Toronto festival site defines Yokai as "bizarre-looking monsters and supernatural beings from Japanese folklore who like to play tricks on unsuspecting humans". Daisensō literally means "great war".
It borrows the title of a 1968 film, which was released in the US by ADV Films as Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare, part of the Yokai Monsters series and directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda. Whereas the original used tokusatsuspecial effects, the 2005 version makes heavy use of stop-motion puppet animation and CGI.