Back in 1986, (my last year in Japan) I stumbled across a strange anime called Ge ge ge no Kitaro. The manga (comic) was created in 1959 by Shigeru Mizuki whom was fascinated by the ghosts or Yokai of Japan.
The anime has never seen the light of day over here in the States for some odd reason, even though anime such as Inayasha that also deals with ghosts is a hit.
Kitaro was born in a cemetery, has no left eye, and fights for peace between humans and yokai.
A Short History on Yokai
Some yokai are part human and part animal and have some sort of supernatural power. Most Yokai avoid people, while some enjoy living near us. It may be the fact that they are attracted to the warmth from houses. Yokai are asscoiated with fire, the direction northeast, and summertime. During the summer, the spirit world is closest to ours.
Kitaro has the following arsenal to protect him and others.
1) His sandals that come back to him like a boomerang.
2) A chan chan ko vest made from the hair of his dead relatives. His vest protects him, can be used as a weapon by wrapping around enemies, as well as a parachute.
3) Able to shoot hairs much like arrows.
4) One hair used like an antenna to detect other spirits.
5) And last but not least, electrocution.
Medama Oyaji: Kitaro's father, or at least what's left of him. He is often seen taking a bath because he likes to stay clean. He is also very fond of sake.
Nezumi Otoko: Half human, half rat. Unlike Medama he's never taken a bath, so he's dirty, smells bad, and covered in sores. Nezumi is always coming up with schemes to make a quick buck as well as betray his friends to side with an enemy. A rat indeed.
Neko Musume: A girl that transforms into a cat monster when she is angry or hungry. She also has a crush on Kitaro, though Kitaro is totally oblivious to this.
Sunakake Babaa: An old woman that carries sand and throws it into the eyes of her enemies. She is a mentor to Kitaro.
Konaki Jijii: An old man who clings to his enemies like an infant,turns into stone and increases his weight thus pinning them down.
Ittan Momen: A flying ghost that looks like a strip of cloth. Kitaro often uses him as his mode of transportation. It can wrap itself around its enemy and smother them.
Nurikabe: A large, tired looking ghost who uses his size to protect Kitaro. He can also block ones passage while they are traveling at night.
There have been 5 versions of the anime as well as a live action movie. The timeline is as follows:
1968 to 1969
1971 to 1972
1985 to 1988
1996 to 1998
The more recent anime follows the original manga and is darker compared to the other anime versions. I have only seen the 80's and 2007 versions but like the more "kiddy" feel to them compared to the 2008 version.
In the Live Action movie, Kitaro breaks the rules between humans and Yokai to help reunite 2 children with their father. Their father dies from a freak accident and Kitaro helps the brother and sister see their father before entering the spirit world. I don't want to spoil the whole movie for you if you ever get the chance to see it. I highly recommend it even if you are not familiar with Japanese folklore. As far as I know the DVD is only region 2, but it does come with English subtitles. The closest thing you could compare Kitaro with American culture would be the Addams Family.
Final comments: Yokai are a very important part of Japanese Mythology. They are used to explain strange phenomenon, used as puns on culture, or even to keep kids well behaved. It would be nice to see Ge ge ge no Kitaro Stateside someday.
Hope you enjoyed. Comments welcome.