I gotta hand it to the Japanese, they sure have a way with monsters. From Godzilla to Mothra to Gamera to the things the Power Rangers fight…when it comes to bizarre rubber-suited creatures, they know what they’re doing! Today’s movie comes from a series of Japanese kids movies featuring a whole mess of strange creatures. From 1968 it’s “Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters.”
The story focuses on a small village where a sacred shrine sits just adjacent to a tenement building. The residents regularly gather there for the reading of the 100 monster stories, which is traditionally followed by a curse removal ritual. All is well, but not for long. It seems that the evil magistrate has plans to tear down both the shrine and the tenement in favor of building a brothel. How many other kids movies you gonna find where the bad guy wants to build a brothel…huh? And this guy means business, when the villagers protest the groundskeeper ends up dead.
The film then ends up taking a short break from the primary story to show us one of the monster stories that is told at the village gatherings. This one involves two masterless samurai who are fishing in a lake. They are then joined by a creepy old man who warns them to leave since the lake has always been a place of death. Of course, they ignore the old coot and end up catching a fish before heading home. They head to the home of one of the men, where he gives his wife the fish to prepare. Then, during dinner, the wife’s neck grows to snake-like proportions and she attacks the two men. More kid movie fun! When the telling of this story is done, the magistrate decides to skip the curse removal ritual. Now that’s just inviting trouble.
Meanwhile, the magistrate’s cooky son is becoming somewhat obsessed with the legendary monsters, especially when he begins to have regular visits from a one-legged, one-eyed umbrella monster. Yes, umbrella monster! The villagers, however, are still trying to save their homes. The landlord tries to pay his debt on the land to the magistrate, but he gets murdered in the process. Then his daughter willingly gives herself to the magistrate in exchange for sparing the village…but he takes the girl and continues with his plans anyway. Happy happy kid movie, remember.
Well, this is just about all that the legendary monsters can take. Now it’s their time to take care of business. They begin to harass the magistrate’s lackeys…turning many of them into featureless zombies. A giant floating purple-haired head puts in an appearance, too, before a whole army of rubber monsters shows up for the party.
The overwhelming thought going through my mind as I watched this film was, “this is a kids movie!?!?” I get cultural differences and all, but if I had seen this as a kid I would’ve been terrified! The monsters are gross looking and beyond that there’s quite a bit of violence. One moment when the monsters get two of the baddies to attack each other even features a generous supply of bright red Hammer-style blood. Not exactly Disney Channel material, even in Japan.
On the other hand, watching this as an adult, there is certainly some good entertainment value. The last 20 minutes or so of the film, where the monsters really go to town, is wonderfully bizarre. My big complaint is that the rest of the film isn’t on the same level. If it weren’t for the little sidetrack into the story about the stretchy-neck lady, there wouldn’t be much monster action until the end. Oh, except for that bizarre umbrella monster…I’m still trying to figure that thing out.
“Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters” does require some extra effort from western viewers. It’s approach to storytelling is not what we’re used to on this side of the globe. But fans of Japanese monsters will find a lot to enjoy in this bizarre kids film…which is most definitely not for kids.