Werewolves in asian cinema are always very interesting. Jacinto Molina experimented with this in his eleventh Waldemar Daninsky movie "The Werewolf and the Magic Sword", and werewolves in one form or another are quite common in anime. This particular venture is about Yokai, or shapeshifters, and the main character is half-man, half-werewolf. So I figure that makes him one quarter wolf. Or something.
The movie opens with our hero, Kibakichi, being ambushed by a bunch of bandits in a cornfield. In a very cool samurai swordfight, the first thing we learn about our hero is that he has a very peculiar fighting style, which seems to rely on his silly cape as much as his sword (still no excuse for that hat, though). Oh, and he also has fangs. After making short work of these unfriendly folks, he makes his way to an equally unfriendly town, where he shows off his gambling skills before taking a job from the unscrupulous owner of the casino, a man named Onizo. Things get complicated when Kibakichi learns that Onizo and has comrades are also Yokai and ain't too keen on the humans, but this is pretty well justified since the humans just want to use them as target practise. Of course it all ends in tears, and this all means Kibakichi must confront an unhappy event from his past.
"Kibakichi" isn't always as linear or as easy to follow as the average moviegoer might expect, but this is actually very effective. The atmosphere is very original and absorbing, and though it has it's slow segments I personally thought this was on the whole much more fun than many of the fantasy movies that have been churned out of Hollywood lately. It's difficult to place this in any particular genre ... it seems like it has a 'wild west' feel to it, but that's probably because the spaghetti westerns owed an awful lot to asian cinema in the first place. If anything then this is derivative of other asian movies that follow in the "Yojimbo" tradition, and this is basically another interpretation of that storyline. It's not as exploitative as most of the others, either.
Since it's DVD release, this movie hasn't been as well recieved by westerners as it probably should have been, which is probably largely due to what is apparently an awful dubbing job in the English language version. If you want to appreciate it fully, it'll have to be the version in Japanese with subtitles. This will mean you can appreciate the performances of the actors, which range from amateur to actually pretty good. Some of the special effects are also good, while others are ... interesting. Overall this is a movie I can recommend pretty much without reservation to anyone with a strong interest in the horror/fantasy genre, or in asian movies.
Kibakichi is a Yokai, or shapeshifter. Half-man, half-werewolf. The Yokai race are in danger of being exterminated by the humans, partly because they seem to be a bunch of wusses on the whole, and partly because some humans are afraid that the Yokai will mix with them, which would apparently be a very bad thing. In many ways Kibakichi himself reminds of another dark asian hero, Vampire Hunter D -- and not just because of the silly hair (see top photo). Both of them are supernatural creatures with a dark past, both are half human and yes, both do have big hats.
Whilst Kibakichi himself is a werewolf of sorts, we do see plenty of other Yokai such as a giant bug-lady, swamp things and other such mutants ... most of them, however, seem pretty useless once the humans turn up with a few firearms, and clearly not all of them are suited to be warriors. Thankfully, Kibakichi has no problem dispatching of those pesky homo sapiens if the need should arise. There is more to suggest that Kibakichi isn't quite like the other Yokai, since they have blue blood and his is the standard red variety. Perhaps he's supposed to be some kind of half-breed, like Vampire Hunter D, who doesn't belong in either world.
The transformation scene, which actually occurs towards the end of the movie, is both dramatically effective and pretty nifty in terms of special effects. Kibakichi is something of an odd looking werewolf (see bottom photo), and appears different from the werewolves we see earlier in the movie (see second photo down) which supports the half-breed theory. He looks something like the Incredible Hulk, in fact. Obviously he knows kung fu, and is even tougher in werewolf form than he is as a human. It's a pretty neat design overall, a great climax, and certainly a memorable moment in the history of werewolf cinema.