So far, the Halloween Hijinks articles on this blog have focused on western monsters showing up in Japanese media: vampires, witches, zombies, werewolves, Frankensteins. And thus, until now we’ve avoided the topic of yokai, the traditional Japanese spirits, first of all because there are too many of them to cover, and secondly because they’re really more associated with Japan’s indigenous spooky holiday Obon than with Halloween (though there is a recent pop culture push to make Halloween a thing in Japan).
But, partially for lack of a good topic for this particular Halloween, partially for a desire to do some yokai eiga cataloging, I felt inspired to recall the old Japanese tradition of hyakumonogatari kaidankai, in which Edo-era party goers spend the whole night telling one another one hundred tales of the supernatural, blowing out a single candle with each story told, to eventually reach complete darkness. A whole movie obviously would take up way more time than one of these fables, but if you were to stay up every night from here until Halloween, you could still squeeze in 100 of them (I take no responsibility for any ensuing loss of performance at work the subsequent weeks). Or, perhaps you could watch one a night until the end of the year, or one every three days until the next Obon, no pressure.
Because 100 is a lot, I won’t give much of a description of each individual movie, but rather split them up according to the type of yokai that they’re covering, giving a little blurb about each one. Direct sequels may also get lumped together, because there are, after all, a lot of these movies to pick from, but I also figure some wiggle room makes it more fun when selecting for your own cinematic hyakumonogatari kaidankai.
With that said, let’s dive in:
The most famous of yokai, these water imps are everywhere in pop culture, known for their love of cucumbers, sumo wrestling, and causing anal trauma. On top of the flicks mentioned here, there’re a few other titles that may be of tangential interest, including the “Giant Monster Appears” two-parter in The Next Generation Patlabor, the kaiju flick Gappa the Triphibian Monster, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time.
- Kappa (1994) – it’s sort of a clone of E.T.
- Summer Days with Coo (2007) – not quite as much like E.T., but still about a boy and his secret kappa pet.
- Death Kappa (2010) – a kaiju comedy.
- Underwater Love (2011) – a pornographic musical about a human-kappa romance.
Shape-shifting raccoon dogs, mostly known for their enormous scrotums, and for being a suit that makes Mario fly.
- Checkers in Tan Tan Tanuki (1986) – starring the pop band Checkers, obviously.
- Pom Poko (1994) – about a tanuki group opposing modernization. It’s a classic.
- Princess Raccoon (2005) – a surrealist musical from Seijun Suzuki. Not much in the way of effects, and the princess obviously does not have a certain feature of tanuki anatomy.
Multi-tailed foxes are notorious for playing tricks on humans, often taking human form and wielding a great deal of magical power. Being a tricky lot, the list of kitsune movies isn’t exactly straightforward either.
- Liza the Fox-Fairy (2015) – a Hungarian comedy about a girl who thinks she is a kitsune.
- Painted Skin (2008)/Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012) – a Hong Kong film series focusing on a kitsune.
- Princess Mononoke (1997) – perhaps these don’t count, but there are multi-tailed wolves that raise a human girl. A handful of other (semi-unrecognizable) yokai pop up as well.
- War of the Wizards (1978) – a Taiwanese fantasy flick directed by Sadamasa Arikawa, featuring a kitsune as the main antagonist.
- Onmyouji (2001)/Onmyouji 2 (2003) – the famous Japanese wizard Abe no Seimei was said to be half-kitsune, and these movies see him interact with other yokai as well.
Birdlike gods, usually with beaks or long noses. They can sort of be jerks, just like real birds.
- Aragami (2003) – a samurai gets into a duel with a tengu.
- Karas: The Prophecy (2005) and Karas: the Revelation (2007) – about a tengu-themed superhero in a modern, yokai-filled Tokyo.
Magic cats, and the cat-eared women they often conflate with, have been a part of Japanese cinema for the entire history of the medium. They really took off in a big way in the 1950s, though, when Daiei launched a series of of movies on the topic, inspiring numerous imitators. That’s not even getting into the glut of cat-eared girls who typified anime in the 1980s!
- Daiei series: Ghost of Saga Mansion (1953), Ghost Cat of Arima Palace (1953), Ghost Cat of the Okazaki Upheaval (1954), Ghost Cat of Ouma Crossing (1954), Ghost Cat of 53 Stations, (1956), Ghost Cat of Yonaki Swamp (1957), The Cursed Wall (1958), Bakeneko Under Arrest (1958), The Haunted Castle (1969)
- Black Cat Mansion (1958) – a Shintoho attempt at the trend.
- Ghost Cat of the Karakuri Temple (1958) – same, but from Toei.
- Ghost Cat of Otama Pond (1960) – also from Shintoho.
- Kuroneko (1968) – it’s in the Criterion collection!
- The Cursed Pond (1968) – a throwback similar to Kuroneko.
- Legend of the Demon Cat (2017) – a newer Chinese movie based on a Japanese novel.
- Cat-Eyed Boy (2006) – based on the Kazuo Umezz manga, lest one think all cat yokai are female.
Unlike the Edo-era origins of most yokai, Kitaro the boy liaison-to-the-supernatural wasn’t actually made up until the 1930s. However, it was due to Shigeru Mizuki’s take on the character that led to a huge boom in popularity of yokai in the 1960s, and pretty much codified modern interpretation of the creatures.
- Gegege no Kitaro (1985)/Gegege no Kitaro: the Goblin War (1986)/Gegege no Kitaro: the Goblin Army Landed Japan (1986)/ Gegege no Kitaro: The Revolt of the Goblin from the Other Dimensional World (1986) – the series of movies spun off from the second TV series.
- Dramaland’s Gegege no Kitaro (1985) and Gegege no Kitaro: Magic Flute Elohim Essaim (1987) – these two live-action adaptations aren’t actually connected, but both were from Toei in close proximity to one another.
- Gegege no Kitaro: Big Sea Ghost (1996)/Gegege no Kitaro: Ghost Night Game (1997)/Gegege no Kitaro: Ghost Express (1997) – the series of movies spun off from the third TV series.
- Kitaro (2007) and Kitaro and the Millennium Curse (2008) – the better-known live-action adaptations.
- Gegege no Kitaro: Japan Burst (2008) – the most recent anime film (for now).
Japanese underworld demons usually have red or blue skin, horns, and outfits made of tiger skins. You can throw beans at them, but usually that doesn’t resolve anything in horror movies.
- Jigoku (1960) – it’s in the Criterion collection; watch it.
- The Demon of Mt Oe (1960) – the “real story” of the Shuten Doji. Still has giant monsters.
- Taro the Dragon Boy (1979) – an animated version of the Momotaro myth.
- Any Urusei Yatsura movie – The sexy oni alien comedy series is a classic. You’ll probably watch Beautiful Dreamer (1984), because it’s everyone’s favorite, aside from the original creator.
- Shuten Doji (1989) – a Go Nagai superhero. The original cover didn’t have that bikini top.
- Taro! Momotaro in Trouble (1991) – about an ancient demon getting revived in modern day. Nice puppet work.
- Yu Yu Hakusho (1993)/ Poltergeist Report (1994) – based on the hit battle manga. Poltergeist Report is the better one.
- Japanese Hell (1999) – this is basically director Teruo Ishii sending all the people he doesn’t like to get tortured for 100 minutes.
- Gozu (2003) – in a word, it’s weird.
- Ashura (2005) – based on the kabuki play, only with a better soundtrack.
- Kamen Rider Hibiki & the Seven Senki (2005) – Hibiki is the Kamen Rider series where all the karate bug-men are also oni….though that also arguably applied to Den-Oh.
- Friends: Naki On Monster Island (2011) – a cute animated flick.
- Ao Oni (2014)/Ao Oni ver 2.0 (2015) – survival horror based on the hit RPG-maker game series.
- Yase no Namahage (2015) – a boy and his supernatural pal.
- Too Young to Die (2016) – a musical comedy about hell.
Everyday objects come to life, which always makes for entertaining movies.
- House (1977) – a wild ride about a possessed house. Also maybe a bakeneko movie.
- Battle Heater (1989) – about a possessed kotatsu. Likewise a hoot.
- Short Peace (2013) – an anthology of Katsuhiro Otomo stories, one chapter is about tsukumogami.
Inugami are dog gods, so it’s pretty tempting to completely conflate this section with the werewolves previously discussed, especially since a lot of those (especially Wolf Children and Wolf Guy) are more like inugami than they are like western werewolves. But, we’ll try to keep this relatively doggy.
- Curse of the Dog God (1977) – Supernatural horror. It’s from the same author as Wolf Guy, fancy that.
- Inu Yasha: Affections Touching Across Time (2001)/Inu Yasha: Castle Beyond the Looking Glass (2002)/ Inu Yasha: Swords of an Honorable Ruler (2003)/ Inu Yasha: Fire on the Mystic Island (2004) – movie tie-ins to the hit yokai anime. The second and third movies are the best.
- Inugami (2001) – it’s horror, I guess, but more about incest than creatures.
- Kibakichi (2004)/Kibakichi 2 (2004) – yeah, we already had these in the werewolf section, but they are darn fine yokai movies and mandatory viewing nevertheless.
The icy snow woman is a popular mythical figure, but sort of has a single legend that gets played over and over, usually in anthologies. Her story was even transposed onto a gargoyle for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, but without her we can’t really count that one.
- Kwaidan (1964) – an anthology in the Criterion collection.
- Dreams (1990) – an anthology by Akira Kurosawa (so naturally also in the Criterion collection)
- The Snow Woman (1968) – this is the most famous of the solo movie versions, though I hear the new one from 2016 is also amazing.
A relative newcomer to the yokai scene, the slit-mouth woman hit urban legends in the 1970s, probably due to the rising popularity of surgical masks to combat germs and pollution. She’s hiding a giant mouth under there, and always asks people if they think she’s pretty…as you may have guessed, it’s a trick question. There are a ton of movies for the character ever since the mid 90s, but the ones that amused me the most are:
- Carved (2007) and Carved 2: Scissors Massacre (2008) – the most famous version.
- Slit Mouth Woman (2008) – because it has an official US release, not because it’s all that great.
- Hikiko VS the Slit-mouth Woman (2011) – Before Sadako fought Kayako, before Sadako fought Hikiko, Hikiko fought the slit mouth woman. There’s also a Kuchisake Onna vs Kashima-san (as in the teke teke) and Kuchisake Onna vs. Bloody Mary.
- Slit Mouth Woman in L.A. (2014) – because going international is a treat.
Mermaids. We got ’em in western culture, too, but Japan has a twist where eating them can cause very good or very bad luck. There was also a 1975 anime movie based on The Little Mermaid that was great, if you’re looking for more.
- Acri: The Legend of Homo Aquirellius (1996) – a love story with some great makeup effects.
- Dragon Blue (1996) – also has some great effects, and a fun murder fishman mystery.
- Mermaid’s Forest (1991) and Mermaid’s Scar (1993) – gruesome anime movies adapting the manga about mermaids and the people who try to eat them.
- Ponyo (2009) – cute anime mermaid from Hayao Miyazaki.
- Lu Over the Wall (2017) – cute anime mermaid from Masaki Yuasa.
- Siren (2004) – the list was getting too wholesome, so I decided to throw this on, too.
Snake ladies are another yokai you see a lot. Sometimes they’re tragic figures that used to be human, sometimes they’re…just snakes. They pop up in Chinese movies a fair bit, too.
- Legend of the White Serpent (1956) – a Toho/Shaw co-production!
- Snake Girl and Silver Haired Witch (1968) – Noriaki Yuasa adapting Kazuo Umezz.
- Snake Woman’s Curse (1968) – a revenge horror flick.
Kids are the primary audience for scary stories, so it’s no surprise that each school in Japan allegedly has its own “seven mysteries” of creepiness. The two most famous film franchises based on these urban legends are included here.
- Phantom of the Toilet (1995) – there are a bunch of Hanako movies, including one where she fights similar spook Yosuke. This or the 1998 version (which is more extreme horror) is probably the best known.
- School of Ghosts (1995) – based on the novels that spun off many, many other media franchises (including the whole Grudge series), this movie and its three direct sequels have a fun variety of spooks.
For those movies starring other yokai…
- The later Akado Suzunosuke movies: Single Leg Demon (1957) and Three Eyed Bird Man (1958) – the samurai hero started fighting monsters somewhere along the way.
- Eight Brave Brothers (1959) – a trilogy based on the Hakkenden, with some random monsters here and there.
- Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983) – also based on the Hakkenden, with a few less monsters.
- The Invisible Swordsman (1970) – it sometimes gets lumped in with Daiei’s Yokai Monsters flicks, but with fewer classic yokai (it’s got a shoukera).
- My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – not necessarily a classic yokai, but that big fluffy mascot certainly counts as something.
- Hiruko the Goblin (1991) – based on the Yokai Hunter manga.
- The Wall Man (2006) – another Daijiro Morohoshi adaptation, about a critter living in the walls.
- Hotarubi no Mori e (2011) – about a girl and a mountain spirit. Natsume’s Book of Friends (2018) by the same author has a movie that could also be a choice.
- Ninja Sentai Kakuranger: The Movie (1994) – every episode of Kakuranger has them fight a different yokai, this one with one-eyed boys and another one I can’t quite identify. The ninja vs. yokai motif was repeated for Ninninger 21 years later.
- The Ancient Dogoo Girl (2009) – a compilation film from the TV series about a dogoo-themed superhero who hunts yokai.
- Teketeke (2009)/Teketeke 2 (2009) – about the more modern yokai teketeke.
- Battle League Horumo (2009) – basically about people sports-battling each other with armies of shikigami.
Finally, let’s take a look at movies with a wide variety of yokai on parade! It’s like The Avengers, House of Frankenstein, or Destroy All Monsters, only with yokai.
- The Yokai Monsters Trilogy: 100 Monsters (1968)/ Spook Warfare (1968)/Along with Ghosts (1969) – the most essential viewing for any yokai movie fan. My personal favorite is Spook Warfare, which is a loose remake of the Great Yokai War story from Gegege no Kitaro.
- Ghost Stories of the Wanderer at Honjo (1957) – a remake of an earlier 1937 flick, which in turn was sorta remade as 100 Monsters.
- The Great Yokai War (2005) – Daiei’s attempt to relaunch Yokai Monsters for the Heisei era. It has the villain from Tokyo: the Last Megalopolis in it, too.
- Tokyo: the Last Megalopolis (1988)/ Tokyo: the Last War (1989) – based on the novel series about a sorcerer trying to destroy Japan. There are a handful of related movies as well.
- Humanoid Monster Bem (2012) – a spinoff of a drama based on an anime.
- Dororo (2007) – based on the classic manga about a cyborg samurai.
- Demon Prince Enma (2006) – a surprisingly dark OVA remake of Go Nagai’s comedy about the son of King Enma, a yuki onna, and a kappa policing yokai crime.
- Hell Teacher Nube (1996)/Nube Died at Midnight (1997) – movie tie-ins to the anime series about a yokai-fighting teacher with a monster hand.
- Gantz: O (2016) – a high-tech task force fights for their lives against a horde of yokai in Osaka.
- Moeyo Ken (2003) – based on the video game where female Shinsengumi fight yokai.
- A Letter to Momo (2011) – three yokai help a girl get past her depression.
- Sprited Away (2001) – I hear this one won an Oscar or something.
- Yo-kai Watch: the Movie (2014) and its sequels – tying into the enormously popular franchise. The third one turns stuff live-action!
- Monster Heaven (1986)/Monster Heaven: Ghost Hero (1990) – anthologies from Macoto Tezka.
- Sakuya, Slayer of Demons (2000) – about a female teenage samurai. It’s awesome.
- Ayakashi Kagura (2011) – a direct-to-video flick with some nice monster suits.
- Woman Transformation (2006) – a sort of cheap anthology about girls transforming into a rokurokubi, nopperabo, and…I dunno, something with long fingernails.
- Rokuroku (2017) – another anthology with a rokurokubi, with awesome design work by Keita Amemiya.
- Destiny: Kamakura Story (2017) – a fantastic movie about a woman discovering that her husband’s hometown is full of yokai.
- 47 Ronin (2013) – an American take on the 47 Ronin story, full of demons and whatnot. It sort of doesn’t feel very Japanese, despite lots of Japanese cast members.
- Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) – another Hollywood picture, this has some fantastic stop motion animation.
Hopefully this has been a handy list that will help guide your yokai movie viewing and keep everyone busy for a while. That said, I still think of myself as a yokai movie dilettante, so if you have recommendations, corrections, or factoids, please leave a comment. There’s a lot out there, after all. Have a happy Halloween!
This is an amazing list, thank you!!
Pingback: Halloween Hijinks: Japanese “Slasher Monster” Movies | Maser Patrol