Story: The nefarious Tajimaya (Takashi Kanda) has not only swindled a property owner out of his rightful land, but he plans to tear down the existing structures. That means not only a shrine, but a tenement nearby will be demolished to serve Tajimaya’s interests. But the rightful owner Jinbei (Tatsuo Hanabu) refuses to turn over possession, as he doesn’t want to see all the residents thrown out and left with nowhere to call home. Things take an even darker turn when a thief arranges a slick payment plan, only to have Tajiyama take the cash and have Jinbei killed, meaning the demolition will continue. Left with no other options, Jinbei’s daughter Okiku (Miwa Takada) agrees to wed the villainous conman, hoping to save the buildings from being destroyed. As time runs out, is there any hope for those in the small village or will Tajimaya and his cruel methods win out?
Entertainment Value: This is the first volume in the Yokai Monsters series and to me, it is a brisk movie that more than entertains. The narrative is rooted in a grounded dramatic thread and as things progress, it veers into light comedic, monster movie, and horror movie vibes, an odd cocktail of genres, but it works. 100 Monsters mixes these varied elements into an enjoyable experience, though one that is a little inconsistent. The dramatic, straight forward thread is the most commonly showcased and while the pace slows a little, the drama element is well done. The story is decent and the cast is quite good, with serious, but slightly tuned up performances. So there is some melodrama here, which helps with the move from grounded drama to fantastical monster movie. Takashi Kanda stands out as the film’s villain, in a dialed up effort that is fun to watch and carries the drama thread well.
Of course, most viewers are likely here to see the monsters and the more horror slanted elements, which are indeed the film’s best moments. There is a brief animated segment that is silly, but so much fun and I just love the artistry involved. The tone of that scene and most that involve the umbrella style monster are much lighter than the dramatic narrative, though the later monster scenes drift into horror, rather than mirth and absurd visuals. The finale is where the movie strikes gold, with a series of memorable set pieces and monster creations that are a pleasure to watch. At the same time, I am sure some will expect more in terms of both number of monsters and their volume of screen time, as 100 Monsters saves the real juice for the last act. I wouldn’t have minded more time spent on the monsters of course, but I think this is still an enjoyable, fun movie, regardless. I recommend it without hesitation to fans of monster movies, offbeat horror, and cult cinema in general.