Folklore, a very bizarre and varied set of yokai spirit monsters, and a girl marked for soul collection by the evil spirit known as Wet Woman. If that all sounds a little strange, then you haven’t experienced the rather unusual world of Kitaro before.
In fact, Kitaro is better known as GeGeGe no Kitaro which has been around in manga form since 1959. Over more recent years it has been released in both anime and live action form, and this review covers the latest live-action incarnation known as Kitaro and the Millennium Curse, or Kitaro: The Curse Song of a Thousand Years if you believe the subtitles.
The story revolves around the actions of spirit monsters called yokai, and the main character is a silver-haired young man named Kitaro. His group of spirit helpers include Cat Girl, Sand Witch, Old Man Crybaby, Wally Wall, Rollo Cloth, and the rather dirty and smelly Ratman. Kitaro also counts his father as part of the team. His name is Daddy Eyeball, which is rather fitting as he is quite literally an eyeball with a body.
In the Millennium Curse young women are being targeted for their souls by an evil spirit. Before being taken a woman will have a visit from the spirit and what look to be scales appear on her skin. Then a few days later the spirit returns singing the Song of Kagome and the woman disappears never to be seen again — consumed for her soul.
Kitaro and his team come upon a girl who has been targeted by the evil spirit during one of their routine night patrols. Her name is Kaede. She drops her student ID as she runs away, which Ratman later returns and offers his help with the problem she has. She accepts, and so begins the story proper.
Kitaro attempts to thwart the evil spirit and save Kaede by setting out on a quest to collect five special instruments. They must be played together as done by the Yambushi Sect to vanquish evil. Kitaro’s motley crew set out in teams of two to track down each instrument before bringing them together for the song to be played.
As is usually the case in such tales of folklore, everything is not as it seems, and Kitaro ends up fighting more than just an evil spirit. His team also get into all kinds of trouble, and we are left hanging until the last few scenes to know the truth about Wet Woman and the fate of the human girl Kaede.
The production values in Kitaro and the Millennium Curse are high. The special effects, although not that frequent, are done to a very high standard with Daddy Eyeball being a standout example. The locations, costumes, and general level of acting are also high considering this is a very tongue-in-cheek adventure.
Saying that, Kitaro is an acquired taste. If you aren’t already a fan then I’d suggest a rental before a purchase as you may end up walking away a bit shell-shocked. There’s very little in the way of traditional fighting throughout the film, and when it does happen you are more likely to see a character throwing faeces (yes, there is a poo throwing enemy), or using a musical instrument to throw knives than you are to witness a sword fight. Kitaro has the most unusual weapons including his morphing furry vest, remote control geta sandals, the ability to produce needles from his hair, and electrocution through touch.
A light-hearted, comedic take on the Kitaro story then, but also one that’s a bit like Marmite. You may fall in love with the characters and be laughing every five minutes. On the other hand, you may see it all as a bit ridiculous and wonder what you could have done with the two hours you just lost.
Add a couple of points to the score below if you are already a long-time Kitaro fan or spread Marmite on your toast.