Sakuya, The Slayer of Demons (2000) poster

Sakuya, The Slayer of Demons (2000)


(Sakuya Yokaiden)

Japan. 2000.


Director/Screenplay – Tomoo Haraguchi, Photography – Shoji Ehara, Music – Kenji Kawai, Visual Effects – Imajica, Production Design – Tetsuo Harada. Production Company – Towani.


Nozomi Ando (Sakuya Sakaki), Shuichi Yamauchi (Taro Sakaki), Kyusaku Shimada (Nigarasu Shuzo), Keiichirou Sakaki (Mashiragi Hyoeh), Keiko Matsuzaka (Spider Queen), Hidehiko Ishikura (Zennosuke Tachibana), Moeko Ezawa (Old Cat Demon Woman), Hiroshi Fujioka (Yoshiaki Sakaki)


Mount Fuji has erupted causing demons to emerge everywhere. Yoshiaki Sakaki goes up against the demons, using the Vortex Sword, which can defeat the demons but also saps the wielder’s lifeforce. Yoshiaki is killed in the battle and hands the Vortex Sword to his daughter Sakuya. She uses it kill a kappa demon but cannot bring herself to kill the demon’s child. She takes the kappa child and raises it as her own son, naming him Taro where he becomes a full-grown child in a matter of weeks. She is then despatched to deal with the demons that are overrunning the region. Two ninja, Nigarasu Shuzo and Mashiragi Hyoeh, are assigned to accompany her, while Taro insists on coming too. They set out to the foot of Mount Fuji, encountering and slaying many demons along the way, before facing down with the prime demon, the Spider Queen.

Sakuya, The Slayer of Demons was the second directorial film from Japanese makeup effects artist Tomoo Haraguchi who had previously worked on various of the modern Gamera films, among others. Haraguchi made his directorial debut with Robokill Beneath Discoclub Layla (1991) and subsequent to this went on to Werewolf Warrior (2004) and sequel about a werewolf samurai, and Death Kappa (2010) about water goblins.

Sakuya, The Slayer of Demons was a complete unknown for me before sitting down to watch. I was immediately captivated by the detail of its world-building and fantastical mythology. The opening scenes grab your attention with the introduction of the demons emerged in the aftermath of Mount Fuji’s eruption; Sakuya’s father going into action wielding the Vortex Sword that slowly eats away at the wearer’s lifeforce, all measured by a candle back at the monastery. And then of 18-year-old Nozomi Ando stepping into her father’s footsteps to inherit the sword and deciding to spare instead of kill an infant demon and adopt it as her own son. The imagination gone into this and the wonderfully stylised, at times quite dreamy, visuals is superlative.

Sakuya (Nozomi Ando) and Taro (Shuichi Yamauchi) vs the cat demon in Sakuya, The Slayer of Demons (2000)
Sakuya (Nozomi Ando) (on the right) and Taro (Shuichi Yamauchi) (rear) vs the cat demon

After these first few introductory scenes, most of the rest of the film is a picaresque where Nozomi Ando accompanied by the demon boy and two ninja set out on a quest to Mount Fuji and pass through a series of encounters as they eliminate demons along the way. These include:- a night spent at a house where a man there captures and reduces women to living dolls and where the old lady who owns the house turns out to be a demon that transforms into a giant tabby cat. Wandering through the woods, they come across a menagerie of creatures like something out of Takashi Miike’s The Great Yokai War (2005) that are variously hopping on one leg, or are dwarf things, others that have traditional biwa string instruments for heads. In another town, Nozomi Ando battles phantom horsemen. And the climax of the film has her taking on the Spider Queen who grows to Godzilla-size sprouting spider legs as she attacks before the demon child (Shuichi Yamauchi) takes a dive from a tower to impale the Vortex Sword into the middle of the queen’s forehead.

Tomoo Haraguchi’s stylised action and creature effects are often quite extraordinary. Indeed, with the mid-air combat moves, uses of written prayers, one realises that Sakuya has actually been intended as a Japanese equivalent of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). The effects work is maintained to a very high standard.

Trailer here

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