GeGeGe no Kitaro

Given my nerdy background, it’s mind-boggling that I was only introduced to GeGeGe no Kitaro in the last year or two. For those of you who are similarly uninitiated, the basic premise is thus: GeGeGe no Kitaro is about a boy named Kitaro who fights monsters to protect people. These monsters, or yokai, come in a million varieties, all of which are hilariously bizarre. Kitaro himself is one of them, which I suppose complicates things. Not that it’s a complex story, from the few episodes I’ve seen, but it’s still interesting.

The original manga was created by Mizuki Shigeru, who pretty much single-handedly popularized the study of yokai in Japan. I don’t know a great deal about yokai, but they clearly fall within my area of obsession. One of my faculty members has even written a book on the subject. So I have something of a soft spot for Kitaro. Not only is it explicitly folkloric and supernatural: it also oozes old-school Halloween-ish charm. The intro for the original 1960s TV show is pretty classy.

(Subsequent versions of the opening upped the silliness factor: the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s versions [roughly], and the rocking funk version from 2007. One of my favorites, of course, is the ska version.)

If this seems a little more childish than my usual fare, consider: yokai are often scary and freaking weird. Yuki-onna, for instance, is a murderous ghost who freezes people to death. Appropriately, given the source material–but decidedly un-cute, in marked contrast to the rest of the Kitaro franchise–there was an inexplicably terrifying GeGeGe no Kitaro video game back on the original PlayStation. In the game you don’t play as Kitaro, but as a helpless human who is threatened by various yokai and has to find a way to summon Kitaro to fight them off. I only played one of the three sections of the game, but it was pretty scary, mostly due to the relentlessly awful controls (also the fact that I can’t read Japanese). But it makes me strangely happy to know that this goofy kids’ show has a darker side, and that it somehow inspired a survival horror game is somehow very fitting. The strangest–and in a way, the best–part of the game is that Kitaro and his father, Medama-oyaji, appear in the game exactly as they do in the show. So there are these grim, scary yokai in these bleak, dark, frightening environments, and your only hope to fight them off are these guys:

Yes, the eyeball is his father. Obviously. (http://japantourist.jp/photos/gegege-no-kitaro)

Another game was released on PS2, and its intro is the perfect combination of cute and creepy. Stuff aimed at children in the US would never be this dark. Look at that giant spider-demon in the graveyard. That is the stuff of nightmares:

I’ve been back on this Halloween kick for some time now, and I’m going to run with it. In the month-and-a-half between now and the holiday I hope to watch a few films and get a couple more reviews in. I also have to prepare a lecture on the supernatural on October 29th, so some of that material may find its way on here. It’s nice to have something to be interested in, even if it only distracts me from my dissertation. If only I could write that the way I churn out blog entries. In a perfect world.

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