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Toronto Film Festival: The Great Yokai War

I’m not entirely sold on “Takashi Miike: Family Film Maker”.

Miike is, when he’s on top of his game, and insane genius. Audition and Happiness Of The Katakuris are fantastic, and Gozu, Visitor Q and Dead or Alive are inspired filmmaking. It’s true that he makes a lot of dreck, but you can’t be perfect when you’re making 3 or 4 movies per year. His films are often remembered for their bizarre, often grotesque scenes; while Miike doesn’t get by entirely on shock value, he still knows how to shock, repel, and entertain with graphic sex and violence.

The Great Yokai War, like last year’s Zebraman, is more or less a family film. There’s some weird stuff here, like a newborn calf-demon and a some occasionally frightening monsters, but for the most part it’s family-friendly. It’s sort of a live-action version of Spirited Away, with a dose of Harry Potter: A young boy finds himself proclaimed the hero of a war between demons and an evil sorceror who’s turning friendly spirits into mechanical monsters. It ends up looking like Power Rangers on a big budget: Cheesy, but with enough enthusiasm and originality to keep the audience entertained.

The story is children’s entertainment by-the-numbers for most of the film: Unpopular boy, prophecy, reluctant hero, plucky friends, furry sidekick… Miike gets away with it by infusing it with his usual weirdness. The spirits and demons are imaginative and fun: One is a wall with legs, another hops around on one leg, and one just counts beans. It’s not quite enthralling, but there’s enough to provide some laughs and entertainment.

The final fifteen minutes, though, see Miike break out his usual bag of tricks, as things go from “Kind Of Weird” to “What The Fuck Was That?” While most of the film sticks to a safe formula, it’s fair to say that you’ve never seen anything like the finale to Great Yokai. It shows that Miike doesn’t rely on explicit violence to make a point; it’s just as crazy as anything else he’s done.

Not entirely essential viewing, but enjoyable for Miike fans and those with an appreciation of the weird and cheesy things in life. If nothing else, rent it and watch the last 15 minutes. No amputations or necrophilia, but perhaps he’s saving that for his big romantic flick.

Published in Comics