100 Monsters (1968)

Shortly after Arrow announced their wonderful repackaging of the Daimajin films, they announced what sounded like a neat companion set called Yokai Monsters. I was unfamiliar with them, so I dusted off my copy of Stuart Galbraith IV’s 1994 book Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films and found very little information there. Only the first of the three films made in the sixties has an entry, and the author admitted his unfamiliarity with the movies.

Happily, Galbraith has learned a heck of a lot more about the series since 1994. He has a really good essay detailing their production in Arrow’s set, which also includes a 2005 film by Takashi Miike called The Great Yokai War that revisits these beasts and specters. There’s also an essay about the artist Shigeru Mizuki, whose wildly popular comic GeGeGe no Kitarō, and its long-running television adaptation (547 episodes!!), is credited with kickstarting the 1960s reinterest in the ghosts and goblins of Japanese folklore and keeping it going into the present day. It’s a terrific set, and about the only thing I’m not happy with is that Arrow’s packaging doesn’t precisely match its excellent Daimajin set and is instead a standard hard box for the Blu-ray cases. I’m also a little annoyed that my Leawo player crashes when I try to play the darn thing to get some screencaps. Such is life.

I thought 100 Monsters was completely delightful, but our son was only sporadically interested. It’s a short film at 78 minutes, but it’s also a very down-to-earth story about two scheming rich jerks in Japan’s Edo period (between 1603 and 1867) who plan to tear down a disused shrine to forgotten gods and a low-income apartment house, and the locals who have rallied against them. One of these is a masterless samurai who infiltrates the rich jerks’ celebratory party. There, a storyteller shares a cautionary fable about ignoring curses, but the rich jerks ignore his instructions to observe a specific ritual at the end of the tales, and soon, very strange creatures are making themselves known.

So the yokai are really only passively involved with this story, and it possibly could have played out without them. But it’s still a tremendously fun film, and the last twenty minutes are very entertaining. The jump-scares when things become supernatural are all extremely clever, and most of the simple special effects remain pretty impressive. I really liked the dual ending: understanding that the rich jerks have got what’s coming to them and the small town can put this behind them is one thing, but that ceremony was still never concluded, and the last we see of the yokai, after they opened the village’s gates and paraded out by the dozens, is them fading away in the morning light. They’re out there now, and I suppose later generations will have to get used to them…

Image credit: Forgotten Filmcast.

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