Takashi Miike's family-friendly fantasy — yes, you read correctly: a child-safe film by the writer-director of provocations like ICHI THE KILLER and AUDITION (both 2001) — is a throwback to Euro-fantasy films like THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984). The film is terrific — action-packed, full of weird creatures (the titular yokai, Japanese folkloric beings with a range of forms, from cute to scary, and varying attitudes towards people), scary in the manner of good fairy tales and jam-packed with complex emotions. Ten-year-old Tadashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and his recently divorced mother live with her aging father in coastal Sakaiminato (not coincidentally, the hometown of manga artist Mizuki Shigeru, who populated his comics with yokai), while Tadashi's older sister and father remain in Tokyo. Tadashi, both a newcomer and a bit of a crybaby, gets picked on by local kids, but at a traditional festival he's selected by a red-masked dancer to be the "dragon rider," a folktale hero. Grandpa indulgently explains that the kirin rider is charged with collecting a magic sword from the goblin king and preventing war among the yokai, but the war is real and already underway. Evil Lord Kato Yasunori (Etsushi Toyokawa) has raised Yomotsumono, the seething wraith of resentful inanimate objects carelessly consigned to the trash heap. Kato and Agi (Chiaki Kuriyama), a kitten with a whip, a snow-white beehive and a super-short, super-mod wardrobe, are melding the generally peaceful yokai with discarded TVs, sandals, microwaves, sake jugs, bicycles and other scrap, creating monsters that will take revenge on the human race. Tadashi's first guide through this strange world is Sunekosuri, a too-kawaii cross between a house cat and a guinea pig, but his allies soon include turtle–beaked river sprite Kawataro (Sadawo Abe), red-faced General Nurarihyon (Kiyoshiro Imawano), pretty river princess Kawahime (Mai Takahashi), and a host of mind-boggling oddities that look as though they crawled out of the paintings of Hieronymos Bosch by way of hallucinogenic kiddie show H.R. Pufnstuf. The war concludes with a spectacular battle for Tokyo and a goofy ode to the azuki bean, whose powers help tip the scales in favor of the human race, but the film ends with a melancholic coda in which the adult Tadashi walks the streets of Sakaiminato, oblivious to the yokai he was once able to see — including Sunekosuri. A fable of childhood's end with monsters, Miike's goofy, gallant, action-packed fantasy deserves to become a classic family film.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: NR
- Review: Takashi Miike's family-friendly fantasy — yes, you read correctly: a child-safe film by the writer-director of provocations like ICHI THE KILLER and AUDITION (both 2001) — is a throwback to Euro-fantasy films like THE NEVERENDING STORY (1984). The film is… (more)