Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Along With Ghosts

Chanbara Of Horrors

Along With Ghosts
aka Tôkaidô obake dôchû
Japan 1969
Directed by Yoshiyuki Kuroda & Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Daiei Blu Ray Zone B
From Arrow’s Yōkai Monster Collection Blu Ray set

Along with ghosts is the third and final part of the loose Yōkai Monsters trilogy from the late 1960s, following 100 Monsters (reviewed here) and Spook Warfare (reviewed here). As far as I know there have been at least two more Yokai Monsters movies made since these, the first of which is also included in Arrow’s Blu Ray set Yōkai Monster Collection.

This one has very little in common with the previous entry in this series. Indeed, almost none of the various Yōkai in this movie have anything to do with those in the previous two movies. The one exception being the early appearance, with an even briefer screen time than its last appearance, of the big cyclops bear of a creature, the Tsuchikorobi. Other than this quick cameo, the other spooks on show here are pretty much new (maybe some background creatures used as ‘extras’ could be recycled but certainly none of the main creatures you associate with the first two parts of the trilogy, it seems to me). However, where it differs greatly from Spook Warfare, it does share one small DNA link with 100 Monsters... and that is in terms of the story content.

The story, such as it is, follows what happens after a boss kills both two rival clan members and an old man, the latter warning them not to kill anyone on the sacred ground of the forest less the inevitable curse follows them. The boss is after an incriminating document and after two of the bodies are disposed off, they chase after a seven year old girl who has witnessed events and who steals the document but soon throws it away. The old man, mortally wounded, returns to his house and dies but it turns out he’s her grandfather, who let the father believe his daughter had died seven years prior, because he was a ‘no good’ sort of gambler. The grandfather gives the daughter specific dice made from her dead mother’s bones so her father will recognise her and, just before dying, sends her off to find him, pursued by the evil gang. From then on it becomes a kind of road movie with the girl meeting various heroes and villains on her quest to find her father. There is also a slight twist in the identity of the father (of course) and, towards the end, the Yōkai monsters intercede although, frankly, the wandering ronin she befriends could just have easily taken care of matters himself.

And this is where it harkens back to the original movie. Unlike Spook Warfare, which has a plot revolving around the Yōkai themselves as they fought against an invading, foreign demon... this film, like 100 Monsters, has a standard kind of chanbara plot and the monsters themselves just seem to be plugged in here and there to remind everyone that this is a Yōkai movie. They are not at all integral to the plot and, honestly, don’t really do much other than turn up in a few instances where the little girl, finding herself in trouble, suddenly appearing in deus ex machina moments which aren’t, I have to say, a patch on the previous films.

That being said, the spooks in this one do feel a lot more sinister and aggressive... so tonally having things like the umbrella demon in this one might have detracted massively from the more serious tone the film seems to be going for. This film also happens to have a flying head attack... two flying heads, in fact. Which is strange because I’m not used to seeing flying heads in Japanese films. I mean, severed heads flying off necks in various directions sure but, honestly, self powered floating heads drifting in for a bite is a trope I’d more expect to see in the rich legacy of Indonesian cinema than in films like this, I would say. Not that this was an unwelcome occurrence... it certainly helped pep up the muted supernatural shenanigans of this one, for sure.

The film is well shot with some nice, smooth sequences with moving camera and also a few shots where the action of the movie is shot behind other things, such as bushes, to add a sense of depth to the composition. There are, once again, no great gouts of arterial spray when anyone gets slashed with a samurai sword but, at the same time, the directors don’t shy away from using blood to show the aftermath of various bits of sword violence throughout.

So, yeah, really not much to add to this third in the trilogy, which seems to have more in common with a Zatoichi movie than it does with anything else. Along With Ghosts is certainly not my favourite of the original Yōkai films (I think that would be Spook Warfare) but it’s certainly not a bad movie and fans of standard chanbara should get along with it just fine. Certainly, the Arrow box set collecting these three plus the first of Takashi Miike’s modern takes on the Yōkai is worth picking up.

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