YAJIKITA: THE MIDNIGHT PILGRIMS
Director: Kankurô Kudô
Stars: Tomoya Nagase, Shichinosuke Nakamura
Review by Grady Hendrix
It’s a crazy mixed-up world we live in, and loving someone is an invitation to trouble. Open up your heart, and you’re letting in killer comedian gatekeepers, thousands of identical souls that turn into flying head sperm things, the chance that mushrooms may grow out of your face while you sleep, Master Hot and his eternally lost assistant, elephants with tasty fins and poisonous eyebrows, Arata (Ping Pong) tending a bar for dead people that only exists in the dreams of their lovers, and Excalibur, King Arthur’s DNA-splitting sword. Once you realize that this is all true, Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims is actually a reasonable film. If you have trouble with any of these concepts, then this movie will spin your head right off.
The directorial debut of Kudô Kankurô (who wrote Ping Pong and Go) Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims is based on the 1958 film, Yajikita Dochu Sugoroku about two samurai, Yaji and Kita, who go on a pilgrimage to Ise Temple to get away from their wives for a little while. Yaji and Kita tells the exact same story, except it’s a anachronism-drunk musical about the gay samurai, Yaji and Kita, who are going to Ise Temple because Kita is hooked on drugs and Yaji wants to help him get the monkey off his back.
Their journey starts in a dream about Death Tetris and the movie is clotted with dreams, trances, drug-induced fantasies, and imaginary sequences. Give up trying to keep it straight as to which world you’re looking at because you won’t be able to tell the difference. Yaji and Kita kick off their journey with a musical number celebrating their exciting trip where they won’t have to deal with any women because they’re, “BORN…BORN TO BE GAY!” then they hop on board a giant motorcycle (right out of Easy Rider) and roar off to Ise, before getting pulled by a traffic cop who sends them back to the Edo Era. And this is the reality part of the movie.
A knockabout comedy, heavily influenced by Monty Python and unhealthily obsessed with drugs, stand-up comedians, singing and stupidity, Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims is one of those flicks that makes the serious amongst us get headaches. The acting style is broad one second, before switching back and becoming lethally underplayed, and the fantasy sequences sometimes feel like something you dreamed just last night, but they sometimes look like something you’ve never thought of (and in the case of a painful scrotum-stretching scene, something you’ve never wanted to think of) but there’s a method to all this madness.
There’s a third act dive into seriousness (in a metaphysical, “I’m trapped in a bathhouse in limbo” kind of way) and while you may not quite follow exactly what’s going on at every second (there were several times when I was laughing but not quite sure what I was laughing at) that’s the message of this movie, delivered with reality-shattering skills: the world’s a mess, but at least we’ve got each other.