JAPAN CUTS 2021: ‘The Great Yokai War – Guardians’ Is a Wondrous Family Fantasy Epic

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The Great Yokai War - Guardians - But Why Tho

Sixteen years after directing his first yōkai adventure, Takashi Miike brings us a fresh tale of family-friendly fantasy in The Great Yokai War – Guardians, a film full of mythology that will bring joy and hordes of entertainment to kids and adults alike.

Yokaiju, a giant demonic collection of resentment made up of trapped ancient creatures, is threatening to destroy Tokyo and break a barrier that protects the world from unspeakable danger. To stop Yokaiju, a group of friendly yōkai recruit fifth-grader Kei Watanabe (Kokodo Tereda), a descendant of legendary evil yōkai slayer Watanabe no Tsuna. Little Kei will have to show true bravery to save Tokyo and his brother Dai (Rei Inomata), who is dragged to the adventure after a misunderstanding.

For those unfamiliar with them, the yōkai are Japanese folklore, supernatural creatures. Throughout this film you’ll see them in many forms and sizes: a raccoon army-leading warrior, a weather-controlling woman, a medusa, and even a clown are just a few examples of the variety on display. Most of them are brought to life thanks to standout costume design, makeup, and hairstyling; CGI is used for a few of them, but the end-product is not nearly as satisfactory as their traditionally portrayed counterparts.

The world of The Great Yokai War – Guardians is one reminiscent of traditional fantasy RPG; imagination runs wild in each character design and pathos of the story. It has infectious, adventurous energy and just the right amount of innocence. Plus, there’s a light touch of horror. Miike doesn’t shy away from the spooky nature of the yōkai and constantly reinforces it in a playful manner. Their nightmarish introduction to a surprised Kei is delightfully scary.

Although traditional, Kei’s arc is executed with care and charm. He starts as a fearful boy who is overwhelmed by the task at hand and the disturbing appearance of the yōkai, but he progressively evolves into a brave warrior ready to sacrifice himself to save his brother. It’s a tricky role that could easily fall into frustrating crybaby territory, but Kokodo Tereda is always wonderful in it; energetic and lovable, he successfully pulls out both dramatic and action scenes with heart to spare. As his brother Dai, Rei Inomata is just as good; he provides tenderness and kindness, two qualities that are key to the story.

Another standout is Hana Sugisaki (Bleach: Burîchu, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop), who plays Ms. Fox, a badass Kitsune-mask-wearing warrior guiding Kei in his journey. Despite having her face hidden most of the time, her charisma comes through as she commands the screen in pretty much all of her scenes. Takao Osawa is also impressive as a fire-motorcycle driver and raccoon leader Gyobu Inugami, whose presence in the third act elevates the most memorable scene of the film.

One of the most hyped elements of The Great Yokai War – Guardians was the appearance of kaiju figure Daimajin (here called Lord Bujin). And he does not disappoint. Daimajin kicks ass during an outstanding third act and is easily the best CGI character of the entire film; a contrast to other creatures whose spotty execution threatens to take you out of the story.

And beyond cool yōkai, adventure, and action scenes, the film succeeds thanks to its wonderful message. The Yokaiju menace is a manifestation of nature fighting back against the greed of humanity that displaced it. Some yōkai are hesitant to stop this creature because that would mean saving the rapacious human race. However, Kei and Dai step up to the plate using kindness and empathy instead of violence; their values are what our planet needs urgently right now. They represent the new generations: our best hope to nurture Earth and fight against its exploitation.

The Great Yokai War – Guardians is a wondrous fantasy that Takashi Miike directs with intelligence and skill. It’s a movie with comedy, adventure, action, and memorable characters that use rich Japanese mythology to communicate a message of peace and healing of nature.

The Great Yokai War – Guardians is part of JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film 2021. It will have In-Person screenings on Saturday, August 28, 7 PM, and Wednesday, September 1, 4 PM. 

The Great Yokai War - Guardians
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

The Great Yokai War – Guardians is a wondrous fantasy that Takashi Miike directs with intelligence and skill. It’s a movie with comedy, adventure, action, and memorable characters that use rich Japanese mythology to communicate a message of peace and healing of nature.