Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden I / Werewolf Warrior I (Japan, 2004)

(Trailer) Kibakichi (Ryuji Harada), dressed in rags and an ugly hat, is an itinerant swordsman with matted hair who is wandering the byroads of feudal Japan. He also just happens to be a werewolf. (Although, in truth, the term "werewolf" is Western and actually wrong: he is one of the last of his people, a village of yokai whose non-human form is that of a wolfen bipedal beast.)
As is to be expected of any Japanese samurai film, three minutes into the brown-tinted landscape he gets attacked by a band of bloodthirsty bandits who promptly lose limbs and life. They die, he continues his way, and — after passing a doom-saying blind woman and chopping his way past a few kappahe soon wanders into a sleepy village with a casino. The criminals and filth that come to play, however, leave much more than just their money: they serve as food for the village inhabitants, a variety of different forms of yokai who have struck a deal with the local humans (in form of the Yakuzi) to rid the neighborhood of unwelcome scum in exchange for the permission of peaceful residence.
All would seem fine and dandy, were it not for the simple fact that the movie's central theme is: never trust a human! The deal made by the local Yakuzi (all dressed in ankle-length leather outfits stolen from The Matrix) was one of politics: the friendship with the feared yokai ensured that the tilt of power in the regional politics was in their favor. With the arrival of western war machinery — Gatling guns, pistols and grenades — and the resultant military strength, the yokai are rendered expendable and the decision is made that they should be used for target practice. When the Yakuzi roll into town and begin to mow the yokai down, Kibakichi takes up his sword and basically disseminates everyone in an extended scene of ineptly staged and blood-drenched slaughter, the gore of which is only exceeded by the amount of laughter the fight also instigates...
Tomoo Haraguchi's Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden (or Werewolf Warrior I) is probably so intrinsically Japanese in its plot, characterization and execution that it is possibly impossible for Joe Schmoe Westerner to see where and how the film fits within its originating culture, but transplanted onto my DVD player here in Europe, and viewed through my Western eyes, the film wallows deeply, totally and unapologetically in the nether regions of guilty treasures and sleazy trash. It is, without a doubt, a truly psychotronic film: a Japanese B-movie oddity that definitely appeals most to fans of bad Godzilla and shogun movies, for the film combines the best — or worst, depending on how one looks at it — of both genres, only without Godzilla. Were it not for the ripped and chopped off bodily appendages and spurting blood, the general filmic execution is that of a children's film. Indeed, each and every monster that appears in the film is a product of the traditional Japanese paper-mâché and fake-fur school of costume design: no monster is as scary as it is hilariously laughable.
Regrettably, despite a promising opening scene and a entertaining grand final, most of what occurs in-between is so slow that despite the film's at times endearingly dilettantish execution, once too often Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden makes the unforgivable mistake of being boring. Still, the movie does have a strangely perverse fascination, much like that of the crack of a fat workman's ass when his loose pants slip too far down: you can't help but stare, even if you don't want to.
If you enjoy bad films, then Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden might be just the right thing for you... Hell, how can a true purveyor of bad films not find something to like in a movie with werewolves, monsters, samurai, Gatling guns and grenades?
Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden was followed by a sequel the same year. In all likelihood the two films were filmed in tandem, for the female nutcase werewolf with the razor-edged boomerang makes a brief introductory appearance in this flick only to disappear completely until Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden 2.

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