The Film (4.5/5)
Who is Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba)? Is he a private detective? Is he a deadly coin-thrower? Is he the last descendant of a race of vaguely wolf-like people? The answer to these questions is yes, definitely mostly kind of yes. Akira gets dragged into a bizarre case where men are being slashed to bits by an invisible assailant. His only lead is Miki (Etsuko Nami), a nightclub singer who was raped by a gang of dudes who gave her syphilis. One by one, her rapists are being mangled to death by what can only be described as a psychic tiger. This case leads Akira down a dangerous path when a group of scientists capture him and Miki, looking to exploit them for their unusual gifts. He escapes -How does he do it? Let’s just say that it takes guts!- and flees to the countryside to visit what’s left of his village. But where Wolf Guy goes, trouble always follows.
Where the hell did this come from? Oh yeah, duh! Wolf Guy is straight from the heady miasma of Toei’s disturbingly prolific production output of the mid-1970s. Sonny Chiba made 6 films and a TV series in 1975 and I’ll be damned if this isn’t the strangest. He’s absolutely not wasted here and he dominates the screen -as usual- while bringing this unusual character to life. Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi certainly knew how to get the most out of his star especially since they collaborated several times before and after Wolf Guy. Etsuko Nami manages to wrangle some well-deserved screen time away from Chiba with her hypnotic performance as Miki, a woman whose life was destroyed by sexual violence and who is now spiraling out of control. Her musical sequence performing her maudlin and blood-soaked lyrics onstage while male onlookers boo and throw garbage at her is my favorite scene in the movie.
What really stands out in Wolf Guy is the score by composer- well, I don’t have a clue who did this gorgeous combination of fuzz guitar-laden funk and atmospheric synthesizer. It’s a friggin’ rad score, that’s for damn sure. According to IMDB, cinematographer Yoshio Nakajima shot 36 films in 14 years. He certainly gives the viewers of Wolf Guy a lot of vibrant colors and kinetic madness to drool over. I have to wonder if screenwriter Kazumasa Hirai -and creator of the character Akira Inugami- was happy with the final product onscreen here. Toei producer Toru Yoshida hints in an interview in this release that he was not. But screw that! Wolf Guy is a howling good time!
Audio Video (3.5/5)
Kudos to Arrow Video for rescuing this one from a landfill in Japan (presumably). The damage to the print they used is noticeable and only very slightly distracting. A couple of scenes seem to strobe slightly but it’s barely worth noting (too late, I did it). For this film to look and sound this good is nothing short of a cult movie miracle. The funky score is pumping and the dialog sounds crystal clear.
The interviews on this disc are either gold or fool’s gold depending on your enjoyment of Wolf Guy and your sense of irony. Director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi doesn’t remember making this movie and wonders why he’s being asked about it. Next up, producer Toru Yoshida is interviewed where he admits to not giving a shit about this movie at the time it was made and how he’d wished no one would ever see it. Finally, Sonny Chiba shows up to discuss Wolf Guy in detail and regale the viewer with tales of its production. Just kidding! He talks at length about his actors’ studio and never mentions Wolf Guy.
My favorite extra (other than the rad cover art) is the article on Japanese monster mash-ups by Jasper Sharp of Midnight Eye in the accompanying booklet. This article is exhaustively detailed and had me making an impossibly long list of Japanese horror films that I need to see. Also in that booklet, author Patrick Macias discusses the origin of the Wolf Guy character in novel and manga form up to and including the 1975 film. While he concedes that the film will never win any awards, Macias is obviously a fan of Wolf Guy.
While I’ve never read the source material, Wolf Guy captures the wild, anything goes spirit of manga itself and is a helluva good watch for Japanese cult film aficionados. This forgotten oddity will certainly be a title I reach for when I want to confuse guests on a Saturday night. It’s tasteless, weird, delightfully stupid, and charming as all hell. The really extreme exploitation elements, a very brief rape sequence and some real surgery footage, are never cranked up to levels that make for uncomfortable viewing. Best of all, the superb pacing of this film is so spot on that I didn’t want the film to be over once the credits started rolling. I can’t wait to watch Wolf Guy again!