Lumbering out of the primordial ooze of pop culture, "The Great Yokai War" is a lavish children’s film from, of all people, Takashi Miike, the director famous for his phantasmagorias of horrific, imaginative violence, horrific, imaginatively disturbed sexuality, and general horrific, imaginative weirdness. Epic in scale, scattered with motifs lifted from Miyazaki movies, favoring old-school, Jim Henson-style creatures and containing one of the most ludicrous (and, considering the brand in question is Kirin Beer, oddly chosen) moments of product placement ever seen, "Yokai War" is, in the tradition of "Labyrinth" and "Return to Oz," the kind of film that would terrify the average child, and delight that same child 10-15 years later, once he or she recovers from the initial trauma.
The prolific Miike, who often seems to lose interest in his films halfway through, mostly stays focused for the two wide-ranging hours of "Yokai War," in which young Tadashi, whose parents got divorced and who lives with his mother and grandfather in the countryside, gets pulled into a war amongst the yokai, the traditional mischievous and sometimes malicious spirits of Japanese culture. Will he find inner strength and save the world? Well, duh, but actually surprising are the dark themes brought up, if never really explored (the "evil forces" being fought are the angry spirit of a destroyed indigenous tribe and the collective resentment of the objects that have been used and then discarded by humanity), and the overwhelmingly bittersweet ending.
Screens tonight and on June 25th at the Anthology, and will apparently get a limited theatrical release starting in NY/LA on June 30th.
+ "The Great Yokai War" (NYAFF)