Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wicked City (1987)

For centuries, the human world and the world of the demons have held a secret peace based on regularly renewed treaties and regulated by a group of secret cops on both sides of existence known as the Black Guard.

The peace treaty's up for renewal again, and human Black Guard Taki is put in charge of protecting one of the treaty's signatories, one Giuseppi Mayart, from potential harm. Because this is an interspecies operation, Taki's efforts will be assisted by the beautiful demon Black Guard Makie, who looks like a perfect candidate for interspecies romance. Taki will need Makie's help badly, for a terrorist group from the demon side is putting all its power into assassinating Mayart before he can sign the treaty. But the demon terrorists are not the new partners' only problem: their charge turns out to be an insufferable little leech of the highest order whose main ambition seems to be making his protection and their life difficult by running after every pair of breasts available, like Master Yoda on Viagra. Furthermore, not everything about the soon-to-be-lovers' job is as it seems to be.

Wicked City is one of the forerunners of what would soon enough turn into the charming sub-genre of anime and manga loved and feared around the world as tentacle porn, but unlike many of its successors, Wicked City is neither true porn nor only interested in showing big breasted girls with green hair getting raped. The film is also nearly the beginning of the long and fruitful career of classy exploitation anime hero Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Before this, Kawajiri directed an adaptation of E.E. Smith's Lensmen and a segment of an anthology movie, both of which I'll take a look at sooner or later, but Wicked City is the first long-form anime that shows Kawajiri as the kind of guy who's not just making his films to fill a quota of breasts, tentacles and mutilation in his films.

Not that Wicked City doesn't contain all of these required elements  in spades. There's a whole freak show worth of grotesque transformations, fun violence and (often) less fun sex on display that would excite anyone (probably even exploitation anime's patron saint Go Nagai) not completely deaf to the charms of these things even if there were nothing else memorable about Kawajiri's movie. However, this particular director does not share the line of thought many of his colleagues and followers seem to believe in that says just throwing the good (or "good") stuff at one's viewers alone is enough to make for an actual movie, so he put actually coherent world building in the service of a well-paced plot into Wicked City, too. Sure, the world Kawajiri constructs is silly, as is the plot, both however never just feel as excuses for showing the audience nudity and violence. Instead the plot and the exploitation are integrated with each other like in any other film much less interested in showing a woman's whole body turn into a vagina dentata. Truly, it's the best of both worth.

Another advantage Kawajiri's film has compared to a lot (not all, mind you) of his genre companions is the actual brilliance of the film's monster designs. Kawajiri - or probably his art director Kazuo Oga - doesn't use a half-hearted penis-shaped tentacle when he can have penis-shaped tentacles with mouths. He doesn't just use a vagina dentata, but a woman turning into a four-legged spider with a vagina dentata she also uses to spin webs with, and so on, and so forth. As should be obvious, a lot of the film's design work (and some of the backstory about demon women sucking the life energy out of men that reminds of traditional Chinese ideas about fox ghosts) seems designed to let some of the worst nightmares a certain type of men have about women come alive, all in the good old horror and exploitation tradition of playing with the fears of one's audience as much as with their desires. But to me there's also a degree of humour visible in these designs, knowing winks that suggest that, no, nobody involved in the making of this movie actually thinks that women are out to castrate men metaphorically or less metaphorically, which is an effect quite difficult to achieve in a film this full of rape and fearful female sexuality.

Really, what's not to love?


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