Yokai Monsters: Along With Ghosts (AKA Journey With Ghost Along Yokaido Road) ~ 1969, Yoshiyuki Kuroda, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, Japan
The third entry in Daiei’s fantastically groovy Yokai trilogy rests on the far end of the spectrum from Spook Warfare; this time around we are given practically no insight into the yokai as individual personalities at all, and our narrative remains grounded solidly in the human realm, with our monsters popping in far less frequently than in the previous two films. Oddly enough, that means that we have the best story and the most engrossing characters of the entire trilogy, yet somehow, the movie still hits the finish line dead last insofar as entertainment value is concerned, because, really, Yokai is all about monsters per capita. Seems hardly fair, but thems the breaks, baby.
THE PLOT~ When some shady, gangster samurai intercept the delivery of some incriminating evidence, murder style, they also manage to inadvertently choose sacred ground as their primo ambush spot, thereby agitating the local yokai. The hoary old shrine keeper pleads with them to take the bloodshed elsewhere, but, predictably, he is ignored/murdered. Everything looks good for our samurai douchebags, until, that is, the yokai intervene, and place the evidence in the hands of the shrine keepers adorable grand-daughter. With Granddad dead and gangsters on her tail, our little heroine departs on a life and death quest to reach a nearby town where her deadbeat dad has been hiding out since her friggin’ birth, all the while deftly evading her murderous pursuers. But she is not alone; early in her quest, she meets a kindly young samurai who takes it upon himself to defend her, but of course , that’s easier said than done. Before the shows over, we have a few remarkably spooky altercations with the titular Yokai, as they deliver their traditional apparition-administered vigilante justice all up in the bad guy’s grills. It’s freaking rad, is what I’m saying.
Like all the Yokai films (100 Ghosts especially,) as well as Daiei’s also rad Daimajin, Along With Ghosts is, in fact, a samurai film with a strong paranormal element, but in this particular entry, the dial is cranked much further in the samurai direction than ever before. The spooky bits spice up the picture significantly, but they’re almost an afterthought, with minimal rewrites the movie could be told as a straight samurai flick without any ghost business at all. It also does a lot less filming on sound stages, instead many of our exterior shots have been moved to actual villages, open, sweeping fields, and other natural landscapes. There’s lot more moving camera now, due to our newfound wide-open space, and the end result is a more visually dynamic film. Additionally, the ghosts are no longer the least bit wacky, we don’t see a trace of our jive talkin’ Kappa or goofy Umbrella Ghost, and their replacements are pretty friggin’ terrifying. These hideous spooks are designed and implemented for horror, and horror alone. I do think the film could have benefitted from more time with them, but they’re sure effective as fuck when the picture does roll them out.
As I said before, despite the fact that from an academic perspective this film is actually much better than it’s predecessors, it’s still the least likable entry in the Yokai series, because the strength of these films lie almost exclusively in it’s many diverse monsters. In the case of Yokai, sacrificing a well executed narrative for a couple more ghosts is actually the way to go, as counter-intuitive as that may look on paper. Still, it’s no crisis, being the worst entry in the yokai trilogy remains nothing to sneeze at. All of these movies are rock solid. Along With Ghosts just happens to be the weakest in the bunch.
Or, at least, it was… Until 2005…