If you’re like me Retrofiends you spend a large portion of your days wondering what it would be like if someone took the cultural legends and myths of a nation, distilled them down to bloody morality plays and included dancers in Sid and Marty Kroft styled costumes. Well apparently someone also had that thought over 40 years ago!
Over the course of three films in the late 60’s, Japan’s Daiei films (Gamera, Daimajin) brought the classical monsters of ancient Japan, the Yokai, to colorful, psychedelic life. Although aimed at children, the films would most likely terrify and traumatize any youngster (which is why I’m sad these were never imported to the States so they could have contributed to my delinquency).
The first (and in my opinion best) film in the series was 1968’s Spook Warfare. The monsters take center stage (whereas in the sequels they are more bit players) as they help a Japanese village in the Middle Ages combat an ancient, vampiric Babylonian demon, whom has killed, and is now impersonating, the local magistrate. The Yokai don’t take well to a new creature on their turf, and an all out monster war is waged against the demon.
The next two films in the series, 1968’s (yup, they made two of these in one year!) 100 Monsters and 1969’s Along With Ghosts play out a bit differently than the first feature. These films are more in line with traditional Japanese samurai pictures and focus more on double dealing humans that need to be taught a lesson. New Yokai are featured in each film (with the exception of a larger role for Kasa Obake, the umbrella monster, in the second film) all sharing the common goal of terrifying wrong doers into atoning for their wicked ways. Well that, and sometimes licking people.
There are a few elements that tie the films together, primary of which is the portrayal of the monsters as heroes. The creatures, while bizarre and at times downright horrifying have good hearts, and hold honor as their most prized virtue. Another shared trait is the overall feeling of surrealism that drenches the series; garish colors, indoor stages doubling for outdoor locals (giving the sense that the stories are being portrayed upon a stage), and the strange, dance like motion of the creatures all give the series a unique quality.
Anyone looking for an afternoon (and yes they can all easily be viewed in an afternoon, as each film runs exactly one hour and nineteen minutes) of crazy monsters and samurais should check these out right away!
I’d like to give a special thank you to our own Sean Hartter for bringing the Yokai to vivid life with his amazing artistic skills!
Until next time, stay spooky!