Friday, September 23, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Hard-nosed reporter who never does any reporting Inugami (Sonny Chiba) just happens to be the last of a tribe of werewolves, making him not a ravening beast at the night (and day) of the full moon, but giving him an old-school Wolverine-like self-healing ability as well as superhuman strength and agility on these nights. One non-full moon night, Inugami stumbles over a panicked man running through the city streets screaming something about a tiger and a girl named Miki. Before you can say "Very peculiar, Watson", an invisible force rips the guy to shreds.

That - and the vision of a tiger - is certainly bizarre enough to get Inugami interested. With the help of his journalist colleague and friend Arai, the reporter soon discovers that the victim was once part of a rock band known as the Mobs, four charming guys who raped a singer named Miki Ogata (Nami Etsuko?). They didn't only do the deed for kicks, but also because their yakuza-controlled management asked them to, to "teach Miki a lesson".

Now, Miki is a syphilitic junkie singing in strip bars. She's also not completely sane anymore.

Although he has already had some violent encounters with the yakuza, Inugami feels driven to save Miki, an idea that will cost his friend Arai's life. It looks like there's a connection between what has been done to Miki and the highest strata of Japanese politics, but that turns out to be not very important for the rest of the movie. Unexpectedly, Miki and Inugami are kidnapped by a shady government agency that would very much like to build themselves some super soldiers out of them. Miki is easily controlled through her hatred, but Inugami isn't even to be convinced by a little vivisection.

When the full moon appears in the sky, he's getting rather cross with his captors.

For once, a cult film is nearly as awesome as its title promises. Wolfguy: ER (sorry) is as typical of mid-70s Japanese action cinema as possible, with all the absurdity and sleaze that promises. The film's archetypal Japanese action-cinemaness is not much of a surprise when you realize that it was directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who had started his career by making a few girl boss movies in some of Toei's various series of the genre, and then gone on to become one of the studio's go-to directors for absurd action films with the Chiba-associated Sister Streetfighter movies, and the Karate Bullfighter etc series with Chiba.

Now, Yamaguchi was never the most stylish or most controlled of directors. His films are often more than a little sloppy and are usually held together through the power of the pure outrageousness of the proceedings in them instead of strong plotting or narrative. Whenever his films get serious, Yamaguchi falters. Fortunately, there is not much that is sane or serious about Wolfguy. Here, Yamaguchi's hectic editing, his rather random love for inappropriate camera angles and his sudden bursts of cleverness come together to form a feverish and slightly hallucinatory feeling whole.

This strange, loudly unreal quality of the film is amplified even further by the randomness of a script that is built in the usual "one scene of dialogue is followed by one scene of action is followed by one scene of nakedness" style and does not at all care about how to connect these scenes sensibly. It is a non-structure that would only lead to tears in a more normal movie, but "normal" just isn't in the cards for this one. As the oh so wonderful, repetitive Japan funk that makes up the score will agree.

Wolfguy is the sort of film where the first sex scene contains blood-licking and verbal approval of Chiba's animalness, the next (nearly)sex with a syphilitic to prove how trustworthy Chiba is, and the last finds our hero explaining how sex with his last-minute love-interest reminds him of his mother and being born. No wonder, with the girl being named after Chiba's mother and all. Of course, the film plays all this as if it were the most obvious and banal love scenes, producing additional friction in the audience's (well, my) brains.

The action scenes are set up in a comparable way, and have an equal love for the bizarre and unexplained. Why does our hero throw coins with lethal precision? And, coming to that, why is the government werewolf (who will die of an allergy to his new werewolf blood) so much hairier than Chiba (who never transforms into anything)? So many questions, and of course most of them are never answered at all. How could they when it is quite clear that the film just makes everything up as it goes along?

That's not a criticism in this particular case, mind you. When a film is so perfectly fixated on the bizarre, there's just no need for it to try and explain too much or to try and make sense. If it did, it would just sabotage its mind-blowing effect, throwing away the purity of its strangeness for something as boring as plot logic. I certainly wouldn't want that.

Then there's Sonny. Chiba is in his prime here, yet not doing much of the more subtle acting he always has been capable of when needed, nor going for his beloved grimacing scenery-chewing and heavy breathing. Instead, Chiba coasts on his particular brand of charisma and cool. It shouldn't work, or should at least come over as rather lazy, yet somehow feels like the appropriate way to handle this particular role, as if the wolfman were a centre of sanity in the insane world of humanity.

The whole affair is based on a manga I'd just love to read, and possibly the sequel to 1973's Okami no Monsho aka Crest of the Beast, but information about both films is difficult to come by and does generally not seem trustworthy to me. It's a shame, really, because I could use more of this particular brand of insanity in my life.

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