A raggedy, reticent ronin meandering through the dusty Japanese wasteland letting his sword do the talking. Sounds all too familiar, but this particular bushido bum has a secret!
Yep, he’s a mother fuckin’ werewolf!!!
2004 saw this promising follow-up to Tomo’o Haraguchi‘s Sakuya Yokaiden (see our post a week or two back), the equally monster-infused Kibakichi: Bakko Yokaiden (aka Werewolf Warrior). The film and a same-year sequel yielded mixed results. On the negative side, they were long, overly talky, dark and brooding films centered on a dark and brooding hero.
The positive: werewolf vs. monster wire-work martial arts!
Ryuji Harada plays the title character, a wandering swordsman from a tribe of Ainu lycanthropes. One of the last survivors of a massacre, when he finds a remote village populated by yokai on the lam, he bonds with the creatures and offers protection from an evil samurai clan (who have a monster or two on their own payroll).
The villains have anachronistic Matrix fashions, imported machine guns and golden hand-grenades… but alas, no silver bullets, so Kibakichi kicks their ass! Eventually…
The appeal of Haraguchi’s flicks is definitely the creature design, and in this case it’s soooo good, you don’t mind the plodding movie you’ve had to yawn through to get to the climactic transformation and monster battle. Yeah, Kiba’s in full-on wolf mode for only the final fight, and you really need more of him in monster-power-up form paced throughout the film.
The best monster movies have escalating creature scenes, the best martial arts actioners have escalating fight scenes. Kibakichi has neither, saving both the creature and combat stuff for the very end.
But that ending has a samurai wolf-man doing Hong Kong rolls and throwing spastic jump kicks!
The Kibakichi flicks get love and hate from varying audiences. I myself am way too biased, because I love anything with a village of monsters.
If you’re a monster kid, you love it, because this is a crazy Japanese mutation on the ages old werewolf genre. But from a martial arts cinema standpoint, you might resent all the padding from the creature scenes. The critter fights aren’t as clean as your average tokusatsu TV, either. And as far as where this film falls in the yokai scheme, it’s probably the grimmest portrayal of them, nowhere near as charming as Sakuya or the Daiei trilogy.
But hey, werewolf wireworks! I mean shit…
Tomorrow we look at the sequel, which has an entirely different martial flavor…