Kibakichi (aka Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden) Movie Review
Written by Neon Maniac
Directed by Tomoo Haraguchi
Written by Mugi Kamio
2004, Region 1 (NTSC), 95 minutes, Rated R
Kibakichi is a loner. Half man, half werewolf, all Samurai. He wanders the Japanese countryside like Caine from "Kung Fu." He's an archetype, the reluctant hero. The bad-ass with a heart of soft stone. He would find find comraderie with Toshiro Mifune's Sanjuro, or Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name.
Kibakichi wanders into a small village where the residents turn out to be Yokai (ancient demons) disguised as humans. At one time, Yokai and humankind lived peacefully side by side. Then one day the humans turned on the Yokai, slaughtering most of them and forcing the rest into hiding. Kibakichi impresses the Yokai leader with his fighting and gambling skills and is soon enlisted to get rid of a group of Kappa (Amphibious demons? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on PCP?) living in the swamps outside the village. Kappa aren't the only problem the Yokai have however, the local Yakuza clan have been exploiting them with the false promise of a new land where all Yokai can be free to live their lives in their true form. After discovering the Yokai's secret, Kibakichi feels connected to them and takes up the fight as the Yakuza begin a merciless campaign against the village.
Kibakichi is Saiko (pronounced "psycho") Films first release in the US, and represents MTI Home Video's foray into Asian horror. Where most US companies are importing the thoughtful, creepy Japanese horror films, Saiko seems to be going after the low budget B movies. It's an interesting move and a niche that needs to be filled. Not all Asian horror is dead girls and angst filled ghosts — there are plenty of bloody, rubber suited gore fests to be had, and they need to be introduced to US audiences.
At first glance, Kibakichi can appear to be Kurosawa's Yojimbo with monsters. To a limited degree it is, but at the same time it's an interesting melding of Japanese samurai and monster films. Kibakichi trades Yojimbo's mischievious humor for a brooding melancholy, and while there are some parallels, Kibakichi is its own film. Starting out with a strong slice of samurai action, Kibakichi weaves a story of mystery and melodrama that only Japanese filmmakers seem to be able to get away with. While the first half of the film focuses on characters and exposition, the last half pays off with more samurai werewolf action than you can shake a katana at.
Kibakichi has a nice mix of over-the-top samurai action and monster mayhem. Fight choreography is top notch, with none of the modern slow-mo, pan and rotate, or other Matrix style effects that tend to clutter up many modern films. This is good, old fashioned hack and slash (and occasionally bite) action. Inevitably, there are things in this movie that will make western audiences shrug their shoulders in confusion, but there's nothing that will ruin the movie or stymie the viewer. It is a fun flick that should appeal to a wide audience of Samurai, Shaw Brothers and Japanese film fans in the US.
A sequel is being released sometime in July of '05 in Japan, and hopefully Saiko/MTI will be bringing it to DVD in the US. It may not be the best samurai movie, or the best werewolf movie, but it is a solid samurai werewolf movie. It brings the fun for all the right and wrong reasons. This could easily go on to be a cult favorite with the right audience.
Video and Audio:
The review screener was non-anamorphic widescreen, again the final release should be anamorphic 1.85:1. The print that I saw was very dark, and a lot was lost in the shadows. At times it appeared as if the Contrast setting was turned up to high on the TV, with all blacks and grays being the same shade. Hopefully the release DVD will be better.
The review screener I received had a mono track, which isn't unusual. It was clear in most parts and easily understood. The final release promises to be in 5.1, and if done correctly should really enhance the fight scenes and other action sequences.
There were no extras on the screener aside from a trailer. The release DVD will have an English audio dub track along with the original Japanese language track with optional English or Spanish subtitiles. Also promised is a "behind the scenes" feature. The screener DVD only had the English audio dub available, but it was quite good. Some of the voice actors seemed to be quite inspired, and fit the characters very well.
(Neon's Movie Lounge contains a Zenith 42" Plasma EDTV, Oppo DV971H DVD player using a DVI connection, JVC 5.1 DD/DTS receiver and JBL Northridge E Series speakers.)
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