Director Spotlight: The Great Yokai War
It’s strange to think that Takashi Miike, the same Takashi Miike who directed Ichi the Killer, made The Great Yokai War, this semi-family friendly film. It’s the equivalent of Robert Rodriguez doing Planet Terror and then Shorts. Or even Machete and the next Spy Kids movie. While I always encourage directors to explore the many facets of film making (or at least would if they ever listened to me), it always astounds me to see directors working on opposite sides of the spectrum, successfully.
The Great Yokai War is the story of a kid, who does this thing and then…is met by other things. That may not make much sense, but it really is what happens in the simplest of terms. And while it is hard to sum up, know that it is essentially The Neverending Story Meets Pan’s Labyrinth Meets The Craziest Things You Ever Saw [Editorial Note: Not a real movie title…yet).
For a Miike film it has a light tone and is mildly humorous, as the film acknowledges and satirizes the Japanese monster movies of the 50s and 60s. There is a moment in the film when a giant creature is seen flying across the night sky, when two dullards look up and one utters, “It’s Gamera.” There are other moments with some of the creatures mugging and yukkin’ it up for the camera, but it is all done in the name of fun. While there are some serious stakes in the battle between good and evil, the film itself does not take itself too seriously.
Somewhat competent CGI work, but a little cartoony for a live action film. Make up and non-digitized visual effects were masterful; on par with a Guillermo Del Toro film. In fact a great deal of the creatures in TGYW look like the ones seen in Pan’s Labyrinth, which was released a year after TGYW. Make of that what you will.
For a film that bills itself as a family film, it has some frightening images and premises. There are beasts being slaughtered and monsters menacing small children. Besides being spookier than the average family film, it’s extremely surreal, which again detracts from the family friendly label the film was obviously seeking. Not only that, but it makes it difficult to follow at times. Can’t imagine what would go through the head of a ten year old trying to follow this needlessly complex story.
The special effects and humor coalesce to help elevate the film beyond its station, but the film is caught between genres, never really committing to one. And while I appreciate the mixing of genres, here it hurts the film’s ability to draw and hold a viewer’s attention. It’s overly frenetic scene splicing and worldly bisections makes it not just confusing, but less appealing. Not the best I’ve seen from Miike, but not the worst either.