Yōkai – a collection of ghosts and monsters from Japanese folklore – excite me quite a bit. There seems to be endless types of yōkai, and they are far different to their mythical Western counterparts. The kappa, for example, has a ball containing its soul hidden inside its anus and is known to rape women and kidnap children when it’s not drowning people. Like all things, the yōkai have been stripped of their edge over the years, becoming more kid friendly with the ex-rapist kappa being a popular choice for gentle comic relief. Happily, Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters takes a darker approach.
YOKAI MONSTERS: 100 MONSTERS
original title: Yôkai hyaku monogatari
Japan, 1968, Kimiyoshi Yasuda
100 Monsters centres on the long suffering occupants of a feudal village. The ruling daimyo is planning to destroy the local temple and lodge without a thought spared for the occupants. In this despotic leader’s arrogance, he even refuses to follow traditions by conducting a cleansing ceremony after a gathering of One Hundred Stories where ghost tales are shared in a candlelit setting. The yōkai are, unsurprisingly, not pleased with the disrespect shown and aid the villagers in their plight.
100 Monsters often wanders off on tangents, using the ghost stories that villagers tell to present spooky vignettes. These feature some of the film’s best moments and make for an ominous introduction to the yōkai before their destructive arrival in the village. These short segments are also rather creepy; the highlight being a cameo from the infamous rokurokubi.
Some may be disappointed by the lack of yōkai screen time; fan favourites like the kappa are reduced to background extras and only show up in the film’s final act. 100 Monsters is closer to a traditional kaidan tale, rather than the fluffy monster madness of Spook Warfare and Miike’s remake. The stripping back of yōkai adds a layer of tension missing from Spook Warfare, making the monsters themselves genuinely frightening. And for those that enjoy the goofier aspects of the yōkai, the umbrella-shaped kasa-obake is provided for some comic relief.
Stylistically, director Kimiyoshi Yasuda (Daimajin, Zatoichi on the Road) and cinematographer Yasukazu Takemura deliver the goods. 100 Monsters is paced steadily and shot beautifully. While mostly an exercise in subtlety, Yasuda knows when to cut loose and the film’s final onslaught of monsters is captured with delirious colours and dreamy slow-motion. The yōkais’ wild dancing march that finishes the film is impressive to say the least. A large amount of credit is owed to Shigeru Katô and Yoshinobu Nishioka, both accomplished art directors, for the wonderful sets.
100 Monsters is a definite must-see for yōkai fanatics, but those that enjoy quieter Japanese ghost stories will perhaps get an even bigger kick out of this. It is more in tune with a slow-burning spine tingler than a puppet fueled monster movie. Being that I enjoy both categories, 100 Monsters is near perfection in my books.
100 Monsters, Spook Warfare and Along with Ghosts (1969) were once available in a DVD set from ADV Films, but it sadly out of print and extremely overpriced. It is not too difficult to find the individual releases of the films for a more affordable price tag. The quality of video and audio on the disc is excellent.