Metro Weekly

Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims

Reel Affirmations 2006

Review by Sean Bugg

Rating: starstarstarstar (4 out of 5)

Friday, 10/20/2006, 11:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
Japanese with English subtitles

EVEN A PASSING familiarity with Japanese kids cartoons and videogames will show a level of hallucinatory weirdness that surpasses anything that came out of the 1970s bongs of Sid and Marty Krofft.

H.R. Pufnstuf, indeed.

Well, take that level of weirdness, sprinkle it liberally with such Japanese cultural clichés as game shows, samurai and mysticism, then jack it all up to 11 and you have Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims. At least, I think that’s the case. It’s been a bit since I watched the film, but I still haven’t quite come down.

As best as can be explained, Yaji and Kita are a pair of lovers living in Japan’s feudal era. Poor Kita is addicted to drugs, and Yaji decides that a pilgrimage to the storied land of Ise will lead to a cure and their happiness. So, with a big musical send off by the village of Edo — the Steppenwolf-inspired ”Born to be Gay” — they set out on their motorcycle for the big, wide world.

Well, at least until the police intervene and make them start over in a manner more appropriate to their era, namely walking.

Those Monty Python-like moments litter the film, where anachronisms fly madly and everything makes sense in a twisted sort of way. Yaji and Kita must make their way through such challenges as the Laugh Inn, where the local lord demands comedy routines from travelers before allowing them to pass. Then there’s the Singing Inn, where a very exuberant drag queen hopes that somehow her tone-deaf daughter will learn how to sing.

Then there’s the Pleasure Inn…oh, well, you get the picture.

Enduring magical mushrooms, a disturbingly elastic scrotum, and the afterlife itself, Yaji and Kita become oddly affecting characters. You can’t help but root for them to reach their own personal grail (King Arthur does show up, after all).

Yaji and Kita is an exuberantly strange film that may leave your head spinning, but is well worth the ride. — SB

Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims
Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.