Sakuya Yokaiden (Japan 2000)

Rating: **
Review Date: 8/12/01
Cast: Nozomi Ando

Here's something I didn't expect - a Japanese film with the Warner Brothers logo on it... This is your typical female monster hunter film in the vein of "Devil Hunter Yohko" (1990), "Zenki," "Vampire Princess Miyu" (1988), "Bakuen Campus Guardress" (1994), and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" (1992) among others, except that it takes place in feudal Japan. Young and beautiful Sakuya (Nozomi Ando) is the next in line to inherit her family's duty and curse of wielding a demon-possessed sword called Masamura against the yokai (demons) of the world. After seeing her father slain by an angry Kappa (a traditional Japanese water spirit), she kills the creature and adopts its orphaned child as her brother. Lately, the decadence of man has caused Mt. Fuji to erupt, allowing many previously banished yokai to roam the Earth freely. Sakuya and Taro (the Kappa boy) set out on a mission to banish the evil ones once again, and lay their lives down if necessary. They run into many other strange beings along the way, including a wicked man who makes living human dolls, and a group of friendly traditional Japanese monsters (even the bizarre one-legged umbrella monster shows up!). The final battle takes place between Sakuya and the gigantic Spider Queen in a special effects extravaganza.

The first thing that struck me about this film is how much it resembles the work of Steve Wang and Screaming Mad George. I wouldn't be surprised if either of them were involved. The creature effects and other physical effects are very good, and the digital effects are pretty decent as well. Unfortunately, what spoils the film is its juvenile presentation - this is definitely aimed at the "family entertainment" market. While the action scenes are fun and well executed, the battles are bloodless and overly kid-friendly, and the whole film has a lighthearted and goofy tone. But on the plus side, the film looks good and is well made, and Nozomi Ando is a major hottie. Her defiance and fierce conviction as a demon slayer is awe-inspiring.