Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kitaro's US DVD Adventure

Western stories of humans encountering the supernatural are usually told from the viewpoint of the humans; and usually feature the humans as either victims or warriors battling hostile magical beings. While all of that also appears in Japanese popular culture, the Japanese also have stories where humans and the other-worldly try to coexist, often through the efforts of a protagonist who is of both worlds.

One example that is wildly popular in Japan is GEGEGE NO KITARO, a manga feature that first appeared in 1959 and that has been adapted into multiple animated series and movies over the decades. When we visited Japan in 2007, toy stores were packed with merchandise from this series.

The DVD of 2007's live action KITARO movie has been released in the U.S., and I watched it this afternoon. From what I've seen of the original, the story and design are fairly faithful to the original; and while the effects are relatively low-budget, the effects folks do a good job of translating into CGI creatures that look ripped from the comics page. The biggest departure is the transformation of the lead character, the one-eyed half human Kitaro, from a short, pudgy-faced kid into a eurasian teen dreamboat played by Eiji Wentz.

The whole affair is plainly meant for kids, so the scares aren't too scary and the plotline does not delve deep. But there is plenty of wonder and beauty in the visuals. Certainly, a supernatural creature who looks like a bearded head mounted in a flaming wheel, who reproduces himself multiple times and becomes the wheels of a steam locomotive that chugs into the afterlife, is something seldom seen in live-action cinema.

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