Review: Wolf Guy

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One of the more obscure Toei films, Wolf Guy (or Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope as the opening titles have it) kicks off in fine form, with a panicked man running through the city, extraordinary gore, funky psychedelic music, a tiger superimposed onto the cityscape and Sonny Chiba as a laconic investigator. If that doesn’t hook you in immediately, then I would suggest that you are reading the wrong website.

Chiba is Inugami, a journalist / crime fighter who discovers that the man he encounters in the opening scene had been slashed to death by a psychically created invisible tiger, the result of a curse by former nightclub singer Miki, who had been infected with syphilis and addicted to heroin after being gang-raped by a rock band, acting under orders from higher ups.

OK, that’s a lot to take in, so let’s pause for breath there.

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Inugami is the last survivor of a clan of werewolves, and now devotes his time to fighting human corruption. Werewolf fans should be warned that at no point does he actually transform into a werewolf – he just becomes indestructible for one day a month. He tracks down Miki and sets out to save her from herself, but a sinister organisation wants to use her as a weapon – directing her psychic tiger curse powers against its enemies. Super-powered Inugami escapes from them and returns to his childhood village, where he battles locals and meets up with a woman who shares his mother’s name. The two start some sort of weird, incest-flavoured relationship, even as the vengeance-driven Miki and her captors track him down.

Based on a graphic novel and vaguely the sequel to a film made a couple of years earlier, this movie is a fine example of mad, unrestrained Japanese cinema of the 1970s – something that until recently was almost entirely unknown in the West, and even now has barely been touched on by UK and US distributors of cult cinema. It’s unsurprising, as films like this are so utterly demented that they are unlikely to appeal to anyone outside a niche audience. In truth though, Wolf Guy isn’t quite as mad as the synopsis suggests – certainly, there is a wacked out premise and lots of ludicrously eccentric plot developments along the way, but over the 90-odd minutes of Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s film, this all makes a certain sense.

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Chiba makes for a solid hero as usual, and carries the film almost single handed – few of the other characters are developed beyond being plot devices, and the story jumps about so much that he ends up being the only constant. But fans of cinematic excess will be thrilled by this. From the start, there is the sort of splashy gore that you only find in Japanese films of the era (gushing, blood spurting wounds that the camera lingers on for ages) and the film revels in gratuitous nudity. The prog-funk score is to be savoured, the dialogue delicious (when the police calmly announce that the coroner has declared the cause of death to be a demon, you know that you are not in for a normal story) and the non-stop action makes this an entertaining, if often confusing romp.

But the lack of a werewolf is baffling. Everyone loves a werewolf, and why on Earth you’d make a film about one only to not feature any transformations is beyond me. But I guess it adds to the general eccentricity of the whole affair.

Wolf Guy is not for everyone – but if you’ve enjoyed the Female Prisoner Scorpion or Stray Cat Rock series, you might well find this to your taste, and even if you are unfamiliar with those films, if you like your movies incredible and strange, then this should be just the thing for a booze-enhanced evening.

DAVID FLINT

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