I picked up a bootleg of Kibakichi awhile back. I know, I know, bootlegging is bad. I'm the kind of person who sticks to the obscure stuff (if its on the cinema screen or on the video horizon, I wouldnt dare touch a boot) and looks at it like an investment or a rental until I can pick up legit copies when they are available. I'm impatient when it comes to my love of cinema and just cannot wait around for US distributors to discover certain films and directors. Maybe my penance is writing this review and spreading the good word about a good campy, fantasy/action film which is now available in Region 1.
The hook that got me was this... What if a Japanese movie combined the rogue swordsman samurai plotting with fantasy monsters/demons (which the Japanese refer to as yokai)? Yes, at its roots, the film is a lone hero swordsman action flick, only our hero is also a werewolf. Well, I was sold. Werewolf-Swordsman? I must be in heaven.
Once, the world of the yokai and human beings intermingled. But then human beings said, "Hey, wait a minute, these guys are monsters that sometimes eat us." so they waged a war that sent the yokai off into the mountains or subjected them to hide under human forms. Kibakichi's kind were nearly wiped out because he made the mistake of trusting humans, and now he wanders the world alone and guilt-ridden as a result.
Kibakichi strolls into a town populated by yokai and quickly falls into their schemes with the human world. The town boss, Onizo, has struck up a deal with a human yakuza clan. The clan uses Onizo and his people to rip off the competition, first though rigged dice games, and then by actually killing off the rival bosses, either by luring them into a pit of bodies and bones or taken in by the yokai spider demon geisha- the end result is always the humans being turned into yokai snacks. Once their competition is gone, the human yakuza promise that they will open up the towns and let the yokai back in. Onizo invites Kibakichi to use his sword and gambling skills to join them, but Kibakichi warns Onizo that his dream of yokai and humans living together in harmony isn't realistic.
Despite their penchant for munching on human flesh, the yokai are the sympathetic characters in the film. Not only does Boss Onizo take in and care for a human girl (the films stock cute girl quotient) but his dream is a world where his kind don't have to hide anymore. The human beings on the other hand, just see a way to profit and plunder, never in the slightest sense sharing the dream of a world where monsters and humans can get along.
Kibakichi is a neat loner hero, a bit Yojimbo, a bit Lon Chaney Jr. He dresses in a tattered, dusty cloak, has an imposing voice, wild child hairdo, and posses a thousand yard stare that tags him as otherworldly and unsure of how to relate to others because he has spent so much time alone. And, of course, aside from the standard swordplay action hero skills, he can wolf out when he gets mad. Always an added bonus in my book. He's a Lone Wolf that can really wolf.
If you are like me, you don't mind good, subtle CGI, but your blood boils when it is overdone and distractingly rendered (I'm talking about you Van Helsing and Cursed). In recent years CGI is suffering from new toy syndrome and is overused in US and Asian films. That is why it is nice to see the anti-Matrix kung fu of Tony Jaa in Ong Bak and honest-to-god, look for the zipper, rubber monsters in Kibakichi. Though it was due to budget restraints, the practical, old school, cheap fx make this kind of film all the more fun for those of us who are tiring of excessive digital fx. Kibakichi wolf's out in the finale and we get some good ol' rubber monster mayhem as he takes on the gun toting humans and a turncoat yokai who looks like a cyclops Power Rangers villain.
Kibakichi is simple, fun stuff. It was popular enough to spawn a sequel film, which I haven't seen yet but have kept on my radar. The action quotient is pretty good, plenty of monsters, swordplay, geysers of blood gushing and heads lopped off. Pure, cheap, b-flick thrills that will appeal to everyone form anime-heads who like Inuyasha and Ninja Scroll, to cult freaks who drool over Versus.
The DVD: MTI
Picture: Non-anamorphic Widescreen. Suffers from some interlacing and compression issues that leave some of the details muddled. The main areas that are affected are the contrast and colors, which appear, respectively, a bit too dark and muted. Still, for a low budget, import fantasy film (that I venture to guess was probably mainly a direct-to-video release), it is generally good in terms of sharpness and general presentation. This one is not exactly stellar but watchable. (Oh, and it is loads better than the bootleg I picked up, which was a compressed edition taken form the Japanese release).
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Japanese or English language tracks with optional Spanish or English subtitles. The audio is pretty good, though it is quite flat. Obviously the action would be better if it were given the surround treatment. The English dub actually has a bit more robust presentation in terms of dialogue being in the forefront. Still, the (preferred) Japanese track is a bit more even in its mixing. The English subs are "dubtitles," which is a bit of a letdown.
Extras: Trailer— "Making of" Featurette (53:06).— FX Featurette (10:00).— Panel Discussion Featurette (17:05). All of the featurettes are quite informative, though they are definitely presented in a very positive promo piece manner. Thankfully all are subbed and therefore English-friendly.
Conclusion: Rubber monster brawlin' swordplay fantasy action. If you are a fantasy action fan who, like me, thinks nothing would be better than a werewolf swordsman, then your prayers have been answered. Passable presentation, some good extras, and definite replay value make this one worth a purchase.