The menagerie of supernatural entities found within Japanese folklore is expansive. That’s just what happens when you’ve been around as long as the land of the rising sun has. For every folkloric hero, you’ll find a bevy of grotesque horrors just outside of view…ready to pounce. Asia (and believe me I know I’m slipping into generalization here) just has better monsters. We have some fun stuff here in the states but compared to Earth’s largest continent we’re way behind in the boogeyman game. Granted, they got a few years on us when it comes to surviving traditions but I’m still left gobsmacked whenever I decide to do a little swimming in the Asian side of horror.
Yokai Monsters made its way into my life one summer evening in my pre-teens. I’m not sure if it was being shown on television or if it was a rented VHS, but I remember being camped out in front of the 500 lb (as someone who moved that television up a flight of stairs into his first apartment I can say that it may have been heavier than 500 lbs) box we called a home entertainment system. I was less than impressed thanks to a lack of monster action but then a scene hit concerning two fisherman and a woman with an extending neck. This fucking horrified me. I was used to zombies, werewolves, maybe a bulky slasher here and there, but the nightmare realization of something existing that I couldn’t even phantom yet seemed so simple broke my damn brain. I was terrified…but, more importantly, I was excited. Horror and intrigue go together almost too well. It’s why I sympathize with the idiot who goes and investigates the strange noise. The nerves are working but all that scares us exists outside the realm of possibility. This was something that I could see existing. My Guinness Book of World Records had shown me some oddities, what was so off about a woman with a snakelike neck and a sinister smile? Dread mixed perfectly with enthusiasm and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
The film begins at the 100 Hundred Stories gathering in a small village. The community tell tales of spooky encounters with Yokai (a sort of blanket name for supernatural entities) and follow the important rituals handed down from prior generations. The most important of these rituals is the Curse Elimination Ritual. Following this will protect you from the Yokai. This becomes very important later on (obviously). Boogeymen are the least of the town’s problems. Mr. Tagimaya has managed to bribe a magistrate and has plans to level the village and make a shit ton of money in the process. His sights are set on tearing down a shrine and a tenement house. He’s manipulated his way into possessing the deed of said building and he has finally decided to pull the trigger on his scheme. He faces resistance but with his army of cruel goons and the town magistrate in his pocket, it’s not looking good for the townsfolk.
The shitheels throw a little celebration and Mr. Tagimaya decides to impress the magistrate by hosting a performance of the 100 Hundred Stories (this is where the long necked woman makes her appearance). Laughing at how idiotic and superstitious the people are, they decide to not complete the Curse Elimination Ritual. Yeah…not a great idea. Things slowly begin to get weird. Disembodied voices warn folks to leave behind the ryo Mr. Tagimaya awarded them, Tagimaya’s dimwitted son befriends a one-eyed hopping umbrella monster (kasa-obake) and when his men tear down the temple the shit really hits the fan.
On top of the nightmare entities slowly intruding upon their lives, a masterless samurai who has been lodging in the tenement house is snooping around and throwing a wrench in their sleazy plans.
The runtime of 100 Monsters is populated with the dramatics of the sleaze bags holding all the power and the put upon townsfolk attempting to save their homes. There’s some monster action in the early portion of the film but it doesn’t really kick in till we approach the finale. Luckily the cast we spend most of our time with are either suitably likable or deliciously scuzzy. Jun Fugimaki as the suave samurai looking out for the lower class is one handsome bastard and the lovely Keiko Koyanagi plays an important role in the magistrate’s evil plans. The story is abruptly dropped (more-so it’s just easily solved) as soon as the creature action kicks in but you will be too busy watching them monsters do their thing to focus too much on it.
It may feel a bit jumbled and it may lack wall to wall monster mania but I still love this flick. From its shared ghost story opening to its haunting monster parade closing, its a film I’ll hold in high regard till the day I join the various specters haunting the outside corners of existence. But you may not want to listen to me, I’m biased. 8/10