Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vamp or Not? Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare


This was a 1968 movie, Yôkai daisensô in the original Japanese, which was directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda. Looking at the characters portrayed within the film you’d be forgiven for letting your mind wander to Godzilla and men in rubber monster suits or even Power Rangers.

As I watched this, however, it felt fairer to consider it in terms of, I guess, the western fantasy films. The Yokai are traditional Japanese spirits – apparitions was the translation within the film – and the film makes a good fist of recreating these creatures as they should look.

ruinsHowever, our film does not begin in Japan but in the ruins of the city of Ur in Babylonia. The city became a refuge for a hibernating monster (later in the film we discover he is called Daimon (Chikara Hashimoto)). Legend said he would rise again but the legend became lost in time. Treasure hunters came and began digging for the treasures of the city. They find an axe or staff like artefact and dig it out.

DaimonLightning flashes as storm clouds rush. Daimon has awoken and the men are crushed beneath falling masonry. The storm cloud rushes over the seas actually pushing a boat over as Daimon speeds across the ocean and reaches the shores of Japan. His arrival is seen by the local lord, his Steward Saheiji (Gen Kimura) and the Lord’s daughter Lady Chie (Akane Kawasaki).

The Lord stays at the shore, checking things and is attacked by Daimon. He cannot hit the creature as it becomes insubstantial and is, eventually, bitten on the neck. The Lord returns home and is acting strangely. He starts wrecking shrines in the house and orders them destroyed as they are tainted. Samurai Shinhachiro (Yoshihiko Aoyama) suggests to Saheiji that something is very wrong.

feed on SahijiSaheji speaks to his Lord and, angered at being questioned, an ornament is thrown at the Steward but flies out of the house and hits a kappa (Gen Kuroki) in his pond. He looks to see what is happening and realises that the Lord is actually Daimon in disguise. He sees Daimon grab hold of Saheiji and bite him on the neck.

possessionWhat we get then is something unusual indeed. A clone of Daimon splits off and infects the body of Saheiji – reanimating him and turning him in to Daimon’s servant. Whilst this was unusual in how it was done it showed almost a spreading of the vampiric condition except that there was only one true vampire – if vampire he is.

the kappaThe kappa confronts Daimon but the monster is too powerful and the kappa finds himself evicted from his home. He goes to a yokai shrine but the other yokai do not believe his story – there is no spirit as he describes in the directory of Japanese apparitions.

Shinobu fed uponChie is worried about her father and is sat with her maid Shinobu (Hiromi Inoue) when a powerful wave of sleep comes over her. In a trance Shinobu leaves the room. Chie awakens and tries to find her, heading towards her father’s rooms. Shinhachiro intercepts her and goes himself. Having been given short shrift he returns but Chie has found the maid, dead and bleeding at the neck.

the buddhist priestShinhachiro visits a Buddhist priest who has discovered that a demon is in the Lord’s place – as he names Daimon. He explains to Shinhachiro that a demon extends its life by drinking the living blood of humans. He asks the samurai to place three candles around the room the demon is in. He tries to cast a spell but the monster is too powerful and the priest is killed.

Karakasa and the two face girlIt is when Daimon tries to get children’s blood, and two children end up hidding in the yokai shrine, that the apparitions finally believe the kappa and become involved, trying to stop Daimon as his actions reflect on the honour of the Japanese yokai. I don’t want to spoil too much more of the story but I do need to discuss how Daimon can be destroyed.

His weakness is his eyes and they need to be pierced, both of them. Now this is not unheard of in the vampire genre. I was dismissive of it in the film Bloody Tease as the vampires were meant to be a new breed of super vampires and it was handled badly (actually the whole film was handled badly). However piercing the left eye was also the method of vampire destruction employed in Black Sunday.

Rokuro-KubiSo, is it vamp? There is clearly blood drinking for nourishment reasons, though Daimon is referred to as a demon. He can be killed in a manner not unheard of within the vampire genre. He can shapeshift and can create others like himself (although in this case they are more like servile facsimiles). I would say that there is enough there to class Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare as a vampire film.

The imdb page is here.


Uranium Willy said...

I think any flick with teeth holes in the neck and blood draining from them qualifies as a vampire film. I guess the adherence to the lore is part of what you are looking for here sometimes and you have certainly done your research.

I did get around to seeing Velvet Vampires and it will be reviewed at the cafe soon. It was, hmmm... interesting I guess. The vampires in the sun of Arizona or where ever was hard to swallow. this is usually one the big matters, the fry in the sun. You sent me a link once to a review you wrote but I did not read it as I had not seen the movie yet. If you can resend it would like to see your opinion.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Bill

"I think any flick with teeth holes in the neck and blood draining from them qualifies as a vampire film." To a degree I would agree but the reason I set up Vamp or Not? was that there are a lot of borderline films (or classed films that really are not) and I wanted to explore that and, also, I like the intelectual exercise.

Actually, I don't mind vampires in the sun - it was the movies that added that piece of lore, early literature vampires could walk in daylight.

Velvet Vampire review is here.

Uranium Willy said...

I see. I need to know this. I am not a super fan of vampire flicks, but I like the idea of vampires in general. I think that movie cliches burned me out and I see form your site that the vampire myth is handled in many different fashions and is reflected in different types of films.

I will give you an example of how movies ruin the vampire concept and that is that vampires are always some sort of royal personage. I lived in Seattle and they had a strong Goth scene there and all these folks dressed like Bela Lugosi essentially and had pranced about like some Baron or Countess.

Most older movies always had the vampire in a cape, even things like Blacula, or the person was a Count, like Count Yorga. While these movies wee fun it all got tiring and I wondered why a vampire had to have capes and candles and fine wine glasses. Why couldn't a vampire just be a plumber or taxi driver? Or school teacher or pet shop owner? It is not glamorous but seems realistic. And they could even be a little fat and lack grace,not unbelievably handsome or beautiful.

There may be some films like this even and I d not know about them. I saw a b/w one with Lili Tyler and Christopher Walken like this but right now the title evades me. And the vampires in this did not grow fangs before biting someone, they just bit them and gnawed and grinded away, and that was not glamorous but was more believable really.

But I am learning some more abut the genre and lore here.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Bill, the Lugosi stereotype actually falls further back in time as Polidori introduced the idea of a Lord and a vampire in the first English language vampire story, the vampyre.

Be that as it may, I can understand why the stereotype felt wearisome. The Christopher Walken movie you mention is The Addiction and there was a film where the vampire was a taxi driver also, central park drifter aka Graveyard Shift.

Have an explore through the blog mate, the links on the sidebar go to extensive index posts that I keep up to date (fairly much anyway!) and feel free to comment on the post or simply mail me on any of the films if you want to discuss.