K: Kibakichi (2004)

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kibakichi_bakkoyokaiden_2004For those of you keeping score (and if you are, good God, don’t you have anything better to do?), this position was supposed to be filled with Kung Fu Halloween, but it failed to make good with the Halloween connection. K is one of those difficult letters, so while flailing about, I found Kibakichi, and thought, “Oh, cool! Samurai werewolf!”

Wellllllllll, not quite. The character we’re introduced to carries the swords, and as we find in the prologue, when he takes on five bandits, he’s quite good with them, and on top of that, has fangs. His outfit, including his hat, is made of animal pelts. So he may not be in that social class, but yeah, he’s pretty definitely a werewolf, eh? (This was apparently released in America as Werewolf Warrior, which is at least truthful, but screw that – I needed the K)

What the well-dressed lycanthrope is wearing this year.

What the well-dressed lycanthrope is wearing this year.

Kibakichi (Ryûji Harada) comes upon an isolated village that welcomes him, and it turns out that the inhabitants of this village are all Yokai monsters. We’ve been informed that in the early part of the century mankind had declared war on and largely eradicated the Yokai because humans are assholes. These particular Yokai are allowed to exist because of a deal made with the local Yamayi Clan, in that criminals and other malcontents are channeled into the village, where they think they’ve found safe harbor in the local gambling den/brothel but instead find themselves on the menu. This increases the Yamayi prestige and power for cleaning up society, and in return the Yokai are promised their own land on a nearby mountain to exist peacefully. Since Kibakichi apparently got his own village of lycanthropes destroyed by trusting humans, he advises against this deal.

kibakichi8The village leader doesn’t agree with him, and inevitably the Yamayi have the riches to invest in something to replace the Yokai’s power in their land – a gatling gun and other firearms imported from the West. Honestly, the Yamayi were obviously villains from the get-go, because all their kimonos are made of black leather. They move through the village, shooting everything in sight, eventually triggering The Change in Kibakichi, and it turns out a werewolf is a much better fighter than your average Yokai.

Where did you go? We NEEDED you!

Where did you go? We NEEDED you!

Once the characters are all in place in Kibakichi, the movie becomes a waiting game for the ultimate confrontation we all know is coming, and it’s time that is not always used fruitfully. There is a bit of character development so the final massacre has some impact, but it seems achingly slow in developing. A bit of excitement is provided when another survivor from Werewolf town shows up – and she’s determined to kill Kibakichi for what she feels was his betrayal – but it is a brief interlude, never alluded to again. We can only assume she crops up in the inevitable sequel. At least the one human in the village – an orphan adopted as a baby years before – does not have a forced romantic interlude with our werewolf hero.

kibakichi-werewolfThe werewolf transformation is pretty well-done, but then we see far too much of Harada in his full body suit, which gets compounded when it is discovered that one of the Yokai is a turncoat, and he monsters out – and then there is a full-fledged sentai-style fight in a village with lots of balsa wood walls.

There are flaws, but it’s reasonably fun movie, especially if you don’t mind a large expanse of somewhat languid semi-weirdness between the opening and closing fight scenes.

This looks like it was cam-ed off somebody’s TV, but it should give you an idea if you want to check out the full movie. And oh yeah, massive spoiler alerts and all:

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