The film opens with a mysterious man wandering through a field, who is almost immediately set upon by bandits. Good to see that they are not wasting time jumping to cliches! Anyhow, you pretty much know how this is going to go, don't you? They attack and he kills them. The one thing that's different is that our hero has unexplained fangs. Massive over-bite or plot point- you decide! A bit later that night, he crosses a small bridge and is besieged by...some Power Rangers
villains? No, these are actually Yokai, which are mythical Japanese spirits who take on the form of Earthly objects. Of course, if you watch the dubbing, this is explained a bit differently. In fact, most reviews that I have seen list them as 'demons,' which explains which version of the film they watched (I watched it subtitled, in case you didn't get that). He knocks the odd turtle-mutants away, but another one says that he will not return from the town ahead. Mind you, he doesn't actually say this to our hero, but, rather to us. Is there no Fourth Wall in Japan?He gets into town and discovers that it is full of lecherous weirdos. A group of them pester Kibakichi until he goes gambling with them. They partake in some odd game where you simply guess 'odd' or 'even' in regards to what a group of dice add up to be. A game with zero skill and a 50/50 shot of success- sign me up! One of them- a man with a giant eye-patch- loses after they change dealers and complains about it. He is taken to another room and dumped in, finding out quickly that it is full of man-eating skeletons. Okay, I get that they could tear your flesh, but why would they? They don't have stomachs or any other organs? After this, the town's evil-looking leader invites Kibakichi to join them, saying that he has no connection to the humans. You mind explaining that yet, movie? I have to wait, huh? The next day, another gambler experiences a rash of luck and a quick loss of it, causing him to throw a similar hissy fit. He is taken to a room with his 'entourage' and met by geishas. This is the kind of punishment I can live with! Unfortunately, they are actually spider-mutants (not that the film is lit enough to see much detail). Kibakichi busts in and they explain everything to him. Finally!
The town is home to the Yokai, who, as the opening narration explains, have not had a good relationship with humans. Our hero can relate, as a woman from his past shows up to kill him. His relationship soured when they tracked him back to his own town of Yokai and killed them. When others show up, she vanishes and never reappears. Sequel bait, perhaps? The village has made a deal with some humans to get a new town and establish some harmony between the two groups. Of course, the humans are bastards and only used the Yokai to kill some rich criminals. They get their hands on some semi-anachronistic machine guns and start mowing everyone down. No, not these random characters that I have almost no attachment to! The lead bad guys are dressed up like the Xilians from Godzilla: Final Wars, which is an odd choice given the 19th Century setting. Most of the people die- including the leader- but Kibachi slowly fights his way to the lead guys. He gets their before they kill the lone human- aka the cute girl- and turns into a werewolf. I hope that was worth waiting an hour and twenty minutes for. Lots of wire-work, blood and gore effects later, the day is saved...for the living & Kibachi walks off into the sunset. The End.
This movie is very odd, but feels merely passable. You can get away with using cliched conventions if you mix it up a bit. Case in point: Sukiyaki Western Django. This movie, however, uses all of the cliches, but only has some weird monster suits and a werewolf that feels like it was pulled out of The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. The fight scenes are good and the gore is there in some of the big scenes. Ultimately though, the movie falls flat. The pacing is not all that good in the middle and almost seems to be overcompensating at the end. It's like 'we're sorry for the middle- here are some exploding heads.' A movie like this lives or dies by its characters and the connections you form with them. As Rambo taught us, nobody cares when CG blurs die in a hail of gunfire. I did not form a connection with these characters and their bloody deaths were just effects to me, no matter what pathos they tried to attach. Who knows, maybe the sequel will be better.
Up next, I work my way through another Quintology. This time, I cover a series that started off well and ended with a dud...ikoff. Stay tuned...