Director: Katsuhide Motoki
Starring: Eiji Wentz, Mao Inoue, Yo Oizumi, Rena Tanaka, Shigeru Moroi
Kitaro, the first live action adaptation of the popular manga and anime series, follows the titular hero, a yokai. When a legendary stone goes missing from the demon world, it sets off a massive search by human police, fox spirits, and the officers of the monster realm. When two young humans get caught up in all the trouble, it is up to Kitaro to protect them and restore the precious stone to its rightful place.
Made for a younger audience, Kitaro is definitely a child’s movie. Jokes are juvenile and there is a cutesy feel to the look of the CGI and costumes. I actually liked the visual design quite a bit, it feels like a higher budget sentai film. The contrast between the human realm and the highly stylized demon world is large and as a viewer, you look forward to seeing the characters go back to the fantasy as often as possible.
Eiji Wentz plays Kitaro, and he is decidedly not as endearing as in previous incarnations of the character. He’s quiet, aloof, and without a lot of the naivety of which his character is known. The choice to accelerate his age to that of a teenager is understandable from a production standpoint, but it is more than a bit frustrating as an established fan. Mao Inoue is Mika, the older sister of the pair of siblings and she fares a little better. She’s cute and likable enough, but the seemingly forced romantic arc between she and Kitaro is hardly earned. The rest of the actors do an adequate job and quick cameos by Nakamura Shidou and Koyuki certainly help. It’s a straightforward film and the acting reflects it.
There are a few action scenes but nothing stellar, it is entertaining enough for the little girl (5) I watched it with at least. Music is actually well composed the score standing out a bit. There’s an insert song performed by Wentz himself which is solid but somewhat forgettable. The credits anchored by a fun little ‘disco’ scene featuring many monsters that is, again, juvenile but cute enough. The iconic theme song of the series is rightfully front and center and it is a solid, if newly recorded version of the tune.
In the end Kitaro is a fun kids film. It won’t really keep mature viewers compelled, but if you’re looking to introduce a younger audience to Asian cinema, this would be a good gateway film. It’s widely understood that what is appropriate for a child is different among cultures, especially Japanese cinema, but Kitaro is pretty clean and plays it safe even by American standards.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Yokai Monsters, Ningen Bem, and Little Monsters