Kibakichi (2004)

Kibakichi (2004)
Director: Tomoo Haraguchi - Writer: Mugi Kamio - Starring: Ryuuji Harada, Kentaro Shimizu, Masato Ibu, & Yukiharu Yamaguchi.
Updated: 02-26-2006

Fangs . . . but no fangs.

Sometimes a cross-genre film, like the cult favorite Dog Soldiers, can be a lot of fun. More often, however, they can be a silly exercise in the realm of "nice premise, regrettable execution". Such would be the case when describing Toomo Haraguchi's Kibakichi, a Samurai-Werewolf movie that gives fans of either genre little to sink their teeth into.

One of Kibakichi's best scenes is its opener, as a wandering samurai, obscured by hat and cloak, is attacked on the road by a band of unknown thugs. Despite an overindulgence in the number of triple-takes, a fast-paced and solidly choreographed action sequence unfolds with katanas a-clashing. During this lightning-fast exchange, it is quickly revealed through a flash of fangs that this samurai is also a werewolf (although I supposed he could have been a vampire). It was this strong opening scene that made me hopeful of having discovered a nice little action-horror gem.

Problem is, there really isn't any action again until the end. And there really isn't any horror because all of the scenes that were supposed to be scary are populated by men in rubber monster suits prancing about, skeletons flying around rooms on very obvious wires, and all sorts of other trickery of the kind you'd expect to see at a Halloween spook house put on by high school kids. Oh, it's funny . . . but it's not scary.

There's another problem with the character of Kibakichi himself (Ryuuji Harada). While Harada looks the grim and solitary hero part well enough, the character is never really developed enough to become interesting. He's a cipher that slices and dices his way through clusters of enemies, only to turn into one of the silliest-looking werewolves in movie history during the finale.

All we really know about Kibakichi is that his clan of fellow werewolves were wiped out by humans who betrayed a truce that Kibakichi had organized. Now he wanders the earth, driven by guilt. Arriving at an isolated village, he discovers that the place is inhabited by a clan of Yokai, a race of monsters who spend most of their time in human form. Only occasionally do they reveal their ghastly true appearance, when it suits them. This is usually right before they eat some poor unsuspecting humans who were just passing through.

When he learns that a group of humans sent by the Shogunate (and dressed in distinctly anachronistic black leather outfits that look straight from The Matrix) are coming to hunt down the Yokai, he is forced to choose whether or not to take their side.

While a Samurai-Werewolf sounds like a cool idea, and Kibakichi does in fact boast a handful of entertaining swordfights, it is dragged down by crappy production values and god-awful monster designs that look like the stuff of a Saturday morning Kids' show. Needless to say, it's far too silly to be at all scary, but not clever enough it its silliness to be considered camp, either. The meandering plot-filled center only serves to point out that the action sequence bookends are most of what justifies sitting through something like Kibakichi.

But besides the action, there are some amusing bits of gore, and those looking for fodder for a "Mystery Science Theater" kind of experience need look no further than the atrociously dubbed English dialogue track (which can make the greatest of foreign films look ridiculous). Unfortunately, watching it in its native language with subtitles doesn't help make it much less silly. Although it's barely good enough for a late-night viewing by the bored and curious fan of Japanese B-movies, everyone else would probably do well to pass this one up.

A slim assortment of DVD extras includes "making-of" and "special FX" featurettes, as well as a Q&A session with the director and stars at the film's premiere in Shibuya. None of them will be of any particular interest to anyone but the most rabid of Kibakichi fans -- all three of them.

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