Take a seat class, it’s time for History 101. Yokai (apparitions, spirits or demons by any other name) are a class of obake, creatures in Japanese folklore that often possess part animal and part human features (e.g. Kappa and Tengu). Yokai generally have a sort of spiritual or supernatural power, which means encounters with human beings can be quite dangerous. Yokai also have different motives and agendas to humans, which are often completely incomprehensible.
Kitaro is a film adaptation of the legendary manga and anime series, starring Eiji Wentz and Mao Inoue. Kitaro is a half-human/half yokai who takes on the responsibility of maintaining balance between the human world and the creatures that inhabit the forest of Gegege. His father is an eyeball. Yes, you read that right, his father is an eyeball. With tiny human hands and baby human feet. Kitaro’s parents died before he was born and in order to protect their son, his father gathered up what little life essence he had left and emerged as a walking, talking eyeball.
One day Kitaro receives a letter from a boy called Kenta Miura (Ruka Uchida) begging for help to get rid of the ghosts haunting his apartment complex. Kitaro decides to investigate the situation, and that’s when things get really strange. Gegege Forest is home to some bizarre creations, the kind of spirits that might feel more at home in Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine. Kitaro's best friend is Cat girl; she's the prettiest darn thing (Rena Tanaka might have something to do with that) with a passion for milk and large balls of wool. Probably. She's joined by an obscure bunch of characters including Rat Man, a flying rug, giant bird spirits and a wise old dame going by the name of, wait for it, Sand Witch.
Normality is not a word often associated with the inhabitants of Gegege Forest. Kenta and Mika - the brother and sister who discover an all-powerful stone - provide human interest. As it turns out, the stone is quite evil, and the mad fox types (all foxes are pretty much evil in this movie, except one) will do anything to get it back. Kitaro joins forces with the children to restore peace and order to the galaxy. I mean forest. In fact, there's probably all manner of things happening that will make perfect sense to those that grew up with the manga. It has been around since 1959, after all, and is one of the most beloved Yokai stories in Japanese culture. Let's hope it's not just me that feels a little bit stupid now.
Kitaro is a very imaginative fantasy movie and wondrous creativity is evident in every frame. Don’t be put off by the fact that Kitaro is aimed at younger viewers, there’s plenty for adults to take away from this as well. Although, my partner keeps telling me I have a Peter Pan complex, despite the fact that spandex brings me out in a rash. Quite how faithful this adaptation is remains to be seen, because, as I mentioned earlier, my only knowledge of this universe stems from this first feature presentation. My childhood is best remembered for cartoons like He-Man and Transformers, but they never amounted to anything.
Fear not, however, if like me you're coming in from the cold, prepare yourself for a colourful introduction to the world of Gegege No Kitaro. The storyline is uninspired for sure, and anyone expecting Hollywood style effects will be underwhelmed by the rubbish CGI and costumes, which actually have the opposite effect for fans of the genre. The daft effects and rubbish costumes enhance the overall enjoyment and it really is a buffet of giddy delight. There’s a phrase I don’t use very often. The performances are solid if unspectacular, I didn’t care much for Ratman, so don’t get me started on his ridiculous make-up. But hey, the kids will probably love his lowest common denominator comedy styling. To sum it up, he farts a lot. Comedy gold I’m sure.
Despite a farting ratman, there's a lot of fun to be had along the way. Kitaro might alienate the casual viewer but it's still a whole world of fun. I have my catnip at the ready, just in case. You never know, I might get lucky… AW