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Hiruko: The Goblin Hunter (Tsukamoto Shinya 1990)


Hiruko: Goblin Hunter
[Hiruko: Youkai Hantaa]

Genre: Good-Natured, Traditional Monster Adventure

review in one breath

Hiruko - Goblin Hunter (1990) was immediately well-received among the Japanese public. The lead actor, Sawada Kenji, is far more well-known in Japan for his early days as the popular rock star Julie. His singing career easily segued into an acting career due to his personability. He has appeared in numerous films, often in leading roles, with great success and acceptance by Japanese audiences. His appearance in Hiruko was no different, and was a major factor in this film's mainstream popularity. In addition to Sawada, several other well-known actors appear herein, including Mirota Hideo and Takenaka Naoto.

The storyline of Hiruko is on the one hand rather dramatic horror and on the other, a good-natured story, ultimately enjoyable by the entire family (though not recommended for young children). In this sense, it is in some ways akin to Gakkou no Kaidan, also a good-natured ghost story full of traditional elements and innocent humor.


At the behest of his friend Yage (Takenaka), archeologist Hieda (Sawada) is invited to investigate an ancient burial chamber recently discovered deep below his hometown. Hieda's long-running and oft-ridiculed theory regarding the existence of goblins (yokai) is given new meaning when seriously strange things begin happening around the local school ground. First and foremost amongst the "strange things" is the large number of decapitated bodies suddenly littering the place. Then, of course, there is the fact that all the severed heads spawn spider-like legs and are walking around the premises at night. Throw on top of that an ancient Shinto tradition which alludes to the burial of an ancient evil named Hiruko, and you have a recipe for apocalyptic disaster.

With the help of Yage's son (Kudou Masaki), Hieda must uncover the hidden entrance to the ancient underground labyrinth and once there, confront an ancient evil.


This was a great story and easily stands alone in both content and impression. The 1990 special effects amount in most part to a clay-anime feel. Although the creepy (clay-anime) goblins are indeed a major element in the plot, the overall depth of the characters and their interaction easily counter-balances the less-than-perfected special effects. I especially liked the many traditional aspects of this story ranging from the spider-like depictions of ghouls to the recitations of the Shinto Kojiki to open and lock the ancient portals of hell.

Without exception this film can be recommended to lovers of Japanese kwaidan horror.

Version reviewed: Region 0 DVD (English subtitles included)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This is a fun, often humorous mainstream monster story starring plenty of well known and familiar personalities. Plenty of headless torsos (torsi?) spraying blood. This results in plenty of heads laying around, which amazingly enough, sprout spider legs and crawl away! No Goblin Hubba Hubba. (Shame on you for even asking!) This is a fun yet spooky traditional kwaidan tale involving ancient evil (and heads that crawl like spiders, shooting out grotesque tongues here and there.. EEEHHH!)

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