GeGeGe no Kitaro 2: Sennen Noroi Uta
[Kitaro and the Millennium Curse]
Genre: Youkai-filled Supernatural Thriller
review in one breath
GeGeGe no Kitaro is back! And this time he must solve the mystery of a 1000 year old curse exacting its toll on humans and monsters alike. In a more adult-centric episode, with a darker storyline, a myriad of creepy creatures and more mature special effects, this live-action version of Mizuki Shigeru's beloved manga character will not disappoint. This is the second live-action film directed by Motoki Katsuhide focusing on the exploits of the half-human, half-youkai Kitaro.
The character and conundrums of "GeGeGe no Kitaro" are ubiquitous in Japanese culture and are well known by all in nearly three generations. The character Kitaro is the creation of youkai manga maestro Mizuki Shigeru and first appeared in 1959 in manga form. Since that time Kitaro has appeared in countless publications, cartoons, and anime. There are popular PlayStation games devoted to him and as of 2007, live-action films. For a more detailed history of Kitaro's appearances and influence along with some interesting videos, check out my review of the first live-action GeGeGe no Kitaro film.
Both this film and its prequel are directed by Katsuhide Motoki and casts the half-German, half-Japanese Eiji Wentz as Kitaro. Also appearing in both films is Rena Tanaka (as Neko no Musume / Cat Girl), Yo Oizumi (Nezumi Otoko / Rat Man), Kanpei Hazama (Konaki JiJi) and Shigeru Muroi (Sunakake Baba). These five characters, along with Medama Oyaji (Eyeball Dad) comprise Kitaro's "family" and source of moral support as he encounters a variety of difficulty and hell-bent monsters.
In terms of bad guys, this film presents an interesting collection of traditional youkai in a less than favorable light. There is the Jokatsu Baba (Snake Bone Woman), Yasha (Violinist from Hell), and Nurarihyon (Slippery Old Man). Interestingly enough (though I'm not sure how significant this is) both Jokatsu Baba and Nurarihyon are presented as Kitaro's primary nemeses in the PlayStation game Gegege no Kitarou: Youkai Island Crisis.
All these characters and the many others depicted in the film are well-established in contemporary Japanese minds through the tales and writings of Mizuki Shigeru. They all have well-developed backstories (which lie outside this film) and their own history and tales. As with the first Kitaro film, the storyline assumes you already know these characters, a correct assumption regarding Japanese audiences, but far from the case with Westerns viewers. Thus while non-Japanese audiences will undoubtedly understand who the bad guys and good guys are, there is little chance they will fully intuit who the characters are or why they are depicted as they are. But to be honest, such an understanding is not critical to enjoying this (or the first) film, though I admit it is fun to recognize these characters for who they are.
So as an aside, I'll point out that the traditional youkai Nurarihyon has appeared in a number of recent Japanese films released in the West. You can find him in Yokai Wars (2005 - also based on a manga by Mizuki Shigeru) and one of the episodes in J Horror Anthology: Legends (2005) is dedicated to him. In both these appearances he is cast in the more traditional, positive light, so his playing the arch-nemesis Bad Guy in Kitaro 2 was a little surprising.
Also worth mentioning is the traditional identity of the large skeleton monster which appears in the last third of the film. This monster is grounded in the well-known traditional kaidan (ghost story) of the Gashadokuro. This monstrous skeleton is traditionally said to be built from the bones of those who have starved to death. His modus operandi is to chomp the heads off the living. Here, he is the compilation of the bones and souls of those destroyed by Nure Onna (Sea Woman) in an attempt to release herself from a 1000 year curse and regain her former beauty.
In terms of this film's title, "GeGeGe" derives from the Japanese term "Ge" which can translate as "Yuck!, Gross! Icky!". Thus as half-youkai, Kitaro represents (often unwillingly) all the things humans are afraid of or disgusted by. The subtitle "sennen noroi uta" can be translated "the cursed song of 1000 years" and refers to the nature (and potential cure) of the 1000 year old curse experienced by Nura Onna mentioned above. It seems the English title of this film, once it is released, will forgo both the "GeGeGe" and "Uta" (song) and settle on "Kitaro and the Millennium Curse".
While Kitaro is once again contemplating the merit of coming to the aid of humans, who are perpetually grossed out and hysterical over the appearance of Youkai, he learns of the young woman Kaeda (Kie Kitano) whose recent escape from a malignant, monstrous woman has left her scarred with scale-like skin and fearing a repeated attack. In an effort to help her, Kitaro and his gang research the incident and trace it back to an ancient curse placed on a beautiful Sea Woman who fell in love with a fisherman and tried to become human. That woman now haunts the dark streets of Tokyo, consuming souls in what appears to be an attempt to exact revenge.
To placate the ghoul and possibly undo the curse, Kitaro must locate five divine instruments scattered throughout the country. Each is protected by strange magic and a weird monster or two, all of whom must be overcome. Once gathered, the instruments must be returned to an ancient cave, the location of the original curse, in the hope that they might remedy the growing rage and curse of the soul eater.
Once in the cave, however, they find that their problem is much larger than the mere anger of a cursed Sea Woman. A far more diabolical plan which has manipulated them all comes to light, orchestrated by the very ancient and powerful Nurarihyon.
This was a fun film. I enjoy seeing traditional youkai cast in their historical roles and you find plenty of that here. Despite some dark moments, the film is intentionally family friendly, especially towards kids who are familiar with the Kitaro character and his band of friends.
The special effects are decent, though perhaps a little inconsistent as to their quality. Some scenes are blatantly "green screen" while others, such as the appearance of the huge Gashadokuro, present some very polished CG work. Although this undoubtedly belongs in the (traditional Japanese) "horror" genre, with its pantheon of supernatural ghoulies, there is nothing horrific here other than a few life-threatening scenarios faced by our protagonists. Other threats, such as the turd flinging forest monster, will undoubtedly be seen by kids as more entertaining than dangerous. So there's a good mix here, intentionally so given this film's cross-generational target audience.
This film is not yet released in a subtitled version but will very likely be headed your way soon, especially given the successful international release of its prequel.
Version reviewed: Region 2 DVD (Unsubtitled).
|More youkai strangeness from the maestro of traditional Japanese monsters Mizuki Shigeru.||Plenty of monster-on-monster battles and life threatening situations abound, but nothing graphic or out-of-bounds for kids.||Although the girls definitely have the hots for Kitaro, he can't give up his monster ways.||Fun depictions of a wide range of traditional Japanese youkai. And check out the Poo Flinging Forest Demon!|