It’s time to head back to Gegege Forest for the second feature length adaptation of Mizuki Shigeru's popular manga series. Kitaro and friends hopped aboard the magic carpet in 2007 with a blockbuster live-action movie that made over 2.3 billion yen (US$25 million) at the box office. Kitaro and the Millennium Curse, once again directed by Motoki Katsuhide, followed close behind in 2008. Eiji Wentz reprises his role as half-human, half-yokai hero Kitaro, and the rest of the cast return too.
Which means Catgirl (Rena Tanaka) is back to light up the screen with her feline ferocity, and we also have to endure more of Ratman, but maybe he’s learnt a little something about restraint this time around. Then again maybe not - farting is still funny, right? While the first instalment of Kitaro was aimed at a younger audience, the sequel takes the familiar action fantasy route of darker and more adult friendly. The storyline is more sinister in tone, adult themes are explored at greater length, and the film benefits from better effects and more rounded performances.
This time round Kitaro and his friends are investigating a series of mysterious disappearances; young women are vanishing one after another in the pouring rain. It’s up to Kitaro and his friends to save a young girl called Kaede (Kie Kitano), a high school student with a matter of days to live. They stumble upon a yokai conspiracy and a cursed cycle that dates back 1000 years. To save Kaede they must gather five ancient musical instruments and perform a ritual that will seal the evil yokai once and for all. Who knows, maybe they’ll also discover a cure for Ratman’s flatulence, and when I say flatulence, I mean comedy gold. Obviously.
The Millennium Curse is almost 30 minutes longer than the original movie, but Kitaro 2 doesn’t waste any time out of the blocks. It races along, hardly pausing for breath as it reintroduces the major players and sets the scene for the rest of the movie. The first hour is all over the place, occasionally muddled and a little bit rushed, but at times it can be lots of fun too. Even Ratman is less aggravating this time around, probably because he has less of a part to play, but he still gets to make his odious mark on proceedings.
Eiji Wentz came under fire after the first outing for being a little bit bland. His performance is no more enticing here, but luckily he has a large array of supporting characters to fall back on, so you barely notice just how boring his interpretation of the titular character is. Isamu Tanonaka is still a standout though, benefiting greatly from improved special effects, and new additions to the franchise - like Yasha - are very welcome indeed.
The Millennium Curse presents us with a stronger villain than part one; a character not entirely evil, just a little bit misunderstood. Her turbulent past gives the movie more depth than you might expect, and Kaede’s sympathetic turn adds dramatic weight to a final act that really didn’t need to bother. The man-in-suit mentality of the first film has - for better or for worse - been dispensed with, and CGI takes centre stage in Kitaro 2. Motoki handles proceedings well enough, never allowing the yo-yo-ing script to get away from him, whilst creating a visually appealing world for his characters to play in.
So is The Millennium Curse a superior movie to the first one? I would say so, yes. Fans of the original manga will still have their issues, but fans of the original movie will find plenty to enjoy. It’s essentially more of the same, but the effects are tighter and the cast is certainly more comfortable this time out. Kitaro And The Millennium Curse is a fast paced fantasy adventure that improves upon the original in every way.
Family films are rarely as accessible to adults as this, and family films based on Japanese manga have an even harder time on this side of the world. The fact that Kitaro 2 remains an enjoyable ride for children and grown-ups alike is something of an achievement, and I for one would love to see another chapter in the series. Gegege No Kitaro: Death Of A Dirty Rat, perhaps. Failing that, Gegege No Kitaro: Catnip And Curves. That sounds like a better prospect to me. AW